Verdict tomorrow on attempted pogrom in Czech town after two and a half years of delay

Tomorrow (Thursday 24 February 2011) the Regional Court in Ostrava should announce a first-instance verdict in the case of those accused of committing a targeted racist attack on randomly selected Roma people in two neighborhoods of the North Moravian town of Havířov. In 2009, the High Court in Olomouc decided the case could be qualified as attempted murder. The case was therefore removed from the docket of the District Court in Karviná and transferred to the Regional Court.

Almost two and a half years have passed since the crime was committed, and the defendants have been at liberty during that time. The state prosecutor has charged eight young men with committing a racially motivated, targeted gang attack on Roma people in the neighborhoods of Šumbark and Prostřední Suchá in Havířov. One of the victims has suffered permanent damage to his health as a result of the attack. By law the trial will be closed, as one of the defendants was not yet 18 years old at the time of the crime. The announcement of the verdict, however, will be public.

The prosecution charges that on the night of 8 November 2008, a large group of young men took to the streets of Havířov „as previously agreed and with the intention of attacking Roma passers-by.“ The youths, armed and masked, chased at least five young Roma men for the purpose of attacking them. In Šumbark, after a brief chase, they threw J. H., who was 16 years old at the time, to the ground, beat him and brutally kicked him, especially in the head, causing him serious life-threatening injuries. The assailants caused him intra-cranial injuries not only by kicking him, but by using a metal bar called a „gola“ and a 65-cm long collapsible nightstick to beat him with. Police officers confiscated these assault weapons.

After attacking J. H., the gang continued on their way, driving to Prostřední Suchá, another neighborhood of Havířov also predominantly inhabited by Roma people. Three carloads of assailants attempted to attack Roma people there as well. One victim managed to hide in a worker’s dormitory, where migrant workers from Ukraine protected him.

Eight defendants are now on trial for racially motivated attempted grievous bodily harm and for rioting. Prior to these assaults, police already had files on some of them as aggressive football hooligan supporters of the Baník Ostrava and Havířov clubs or as neo-Nazis. The High Court in Olomouc concluded that the perpetrators‘ behavior could be qualified as attempted murder and transferred the case to the Regional Court. The defendants remain at liberty due to significant delays in the criminal proceedings.

The case for the prosecution rests primarily on circumstantial evidence. Police documented the defendants‘ mobile telephone signals as having been present at both sites at the times the attacks were committed. Even though the defendants have confirmed they were present at both places, they claim to have not participated in the attacks. When asked why they were present at the time of the crimes, they were unable to explain. Some eyewitnesses have refused to testify to either the police or the courts out of concerns for their own safety.

In mid-October the presiding judge read into the record the testimony of eyewitnesses who had either failed to come to court or whose interrogation the judge considered necessary. A medical expert testified and confirmed that the main victim had been in danger of losing his life after the attack. He also described the victim’s extensive injuries.

The prosecutor’s main problem is that the assailants riding in one of the three cars have never been identified by police. It is therefore theoretically possible that they were the ones who attacked J. H. and that the others only watched. However, it is a fact that all of the assailants continued to hunt more victims together after the attack on J. H., which would mean they were aware that what they were engaged in was highly violent and could lead to more attacks.

If the court finds the defendants guilty, they face not only prison time, but will have to pay the victim damages in the hundreds of thousands of crowns. They will also have to reimburse his insurance for the costs of his medical treatment.

Police are staying quiet about the case even today. The public has learned about it mainly thanks to the chair of the Roma association Europe Roma CZ, Ladislav Baláž, who visited the family of the main victim immediately after the attack and found a lawyer to represent them. Markus Pape has mapped the case and was the first to inform the public of it in detail. Daniela Horváthová, chair of the local branch of Europe Roma CZ in Prostřední Suchá, is communicating with the witnesses who have not yet testified out of fear for their own safety. News server is regularly reporting on the case.

In mid-July 2009, the Anti-fascist Action group (Antifašistická akce- AFA) reported in detail on the overall activities of some of the defendants on the neo-Nazi scene. According to AFA, the defendants belong to a hooligans group called Thugs Havířov, and one of them is also said to be an active member of the militant group National Resistance (Národní odpor), which was banned by the Czech Supreme Court some years ago.

In the past, violent neo-Nazi incursions against Roma people in Havířov were mainly committed in the Šumbark neighborhood. „Since news server and the other media started reporting on the trial, it has been calm,“ said Ladislav Baláž, who is monitoring the situation.

The trial will start on 24 February 2011 at 8:30 AM CET at the Regional Court in Ostrava, Havlíčkovo nábřeží 1835/34. The main victim is being represented by Mgr. Roman Krakovka of the Law Office of Miketa and Partners with the financial support of the ROMEA association.

Stand: 23.02.2011