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News-Defendants reject charges

29. 1. 2011

Defendants reject charges of an attempted pogrom against the Roma in Havířov
Ostrava/Havířov, 20.10.2009 08:59, (ROMEA)Markus Pape, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

Yesterday the Regional Court in Ostrava opened its proceedings in the case of a racially motivated attack committed against several Roma in Havířov (Karvina district) last November by a group of neo-Nazis. A 17-year-old Romani youth suffered serious injuries and permanent damage as a result of the attack. One of the assailants was not yet 18 at the time, so the main trial is not open to the public. The public will have access when the verdict is announced.

Six of the eight defendants made it to court yesterday; of the two who were not present, one is abroad. The court heard only the defendants’ testimonies; all denied any guilt. "Some of the defendants refused to testify, and those who did testify did not confess to the attack. They only admit to arriving at the scene in two vehicles, getting out of the vehicles, and taking a walk to visit some friends, not to committing the attack,” the Romea.cz correspondent following the case said.

The defendants also claim they saw someone beating someone else up and went just to look at the incident. "According to attorney Roman Krakovka, the testimonies given to police and the testimonies given to the court today were consistent. Everything will depend on the testimony of the witnesses whom the court will call tomorrow,” our correspondent says.

“It was like in an American action film”, said an eyewitness, who does not want to be named. On the night of 8 November 2008, he looked out of the window of his apartment and saw three cars of masked, armed men pull up in Jarošová street in the Šumbark quarter of Havířov. The men jumped out of their cars and attacked two Romani minors, J.H. and P.S. After a brief chase they threw J.H. to the ground, beating and brutally kicking him, especially in the head and legs. P.S. managed to escape in time to avoid injury.

The attackers then quickly returned to their cars and drove to the quarter of Prostřední Suchá, where they noticed another Romani youth who happened to be walking by. They chased him but did not catch up with him. They then attempted to attack another Romani man in the same quarter who managed to take shelter at the reception desk of a hostel, where Ukrainian workers prevented him from being attacked.

The High Court in Olomouc came to the conclusion that the attack could have resulted in the victim’s death if the eyewitnesses in the nearby buildings had not seen the incident and called on the assailants to stop. On the basis of information about the defendants’ previous activities in the neo-Nazi movement and other evidence, the court considers the victim to have been attacked mainly because he is Roma.

According to the prosecution, the assailants acted on the basis of a preceding agreement and intended to attack any Roma they happened to come across. They did not know their victims and they could not have known whether their victims had ever hurt anyone else – they were not intending to punish their victims because of some previous crime, they were just going out to beat up people of another ethnicity.

According to the examining physicians, the assailants caused J.H. “grave injuries which were life-threatening.” Without the rapid provision of medical assistance and several successful, very costly operations, he would have died. His interior cranial injuries were caused not just by the kicking, but by the use of a metal spanner called a “gola” and a 65-cm long collapsing black-jack, both of which were confiscated by police.

The victim has suffered permanent damage which means he must cancel his studies and will evidently never be able to work again. According to the physicians’ report, he is entitled to hundreds of thousands of crowns in compensation. Should the defendants be found guilty, they will pay an even higher amount for the costs of his treatment.

The defendants are a notorious group

Police succeeded in identifying eight assailants, one of whom is a local civil servant. However, according to the eyewitnesses, there were more than eight attackers. Some of the youths who were charged spent several months in custody and are now accused of the crimes of racially motivated grievous bodily harm and rioting.

Police had already recorded the assailants in their database as aggressive football hooligans or neo-Nazis. According to the Anti-Fascist Action association, the defendants from Havířov belong to the Thugs Havířov group, one of the largest fan clubs of the Baník Ostrava football team. One of them, M.K., is also an active member of National Resistance, the most dangerous neo-Nazi group in the Czech Republic.

Brutal assailants at large

From the beginning, the investigation was conducted under a strict police embargo. Thanks to the excellent work of the investigators, it was exceptionally successful. Eight of those suspected of the attack were captured and enough evidence against them was found to file charges. However, the criminal proceedings were accompanied by significant delays due to the fact that the district criminal police were conducting the investigation instead of the regional-level criminal investigators in Ostrava, even though it was clear from the start that this was a serious felony. The attack was conducted in such a way that the assailants had to have been aware that their exceptionally brutal treatment could cost their victim his life.

Unlike the subsequent arson attack on a Roma family in Vítkov, the Organized Crime Detection Unit (Útvar pro odhalení organizovaného zločinu - ÚOOZ) did not join this investigation. This unit could have provided important information on the possible background to the attack and could have investigated suspicions of the existence of an organized group which has repeatedly performed similar actions in the Ostrava region and elsewhere. Due to these missteps, the defendants remain at large today.

At the request of the District Court in Karviná, the High Court in Olomouc transferred the matter to the Regional Court in Ostrava, which handles serious felonies. “Given the nature of the attack and its motivation, the exceptionally brutal way it was carried out and the use of very intensive force, it can be evinced that the assailants may have intended to murder their victim, or at the very least indirectly intended to do so, i.e., they were aware that their behavior could result in death, and therefore their behavior could be qualified as attempted murder,” the victim’s representative said yesterday.

Why did it take a year to learn about this attack?

This case is not an unusual one. Similar criminal excursions by neo-Nazis take place in Havířov almost every month. Roma have had to barricade themselves into their homes more than once in order to avoid being attacked by violent men on the rampage. Over the past few years a large number of Roma have been moved into the Šumbark quarter, where there is high unemployment. Like the Janov housing estate in Litvínov, this locality has become a favorite target of the neo-Nazis. Roma who are attacked often do not file criminal charges as they fear their assailants’ revenge.

What is mysterious about this entire case is why the police have refused to provide detailed information about the attack for almost one year. After a brief, unspecific report was leaked to the public at the start of December 2008, dozens of Roma in Ostrava armed themselves, instructed their families to hide in the attics of their homes, and patrolled the Roma-inhabited parts of Ostrava in their own vehicles in order to prevent further neo-Nazi attacks.

Milan Ferenc, chair of the Roma Association of North Moravia, even sent an open letter to the Czech prime minister and other state representatives calling on them to “accelerate the abolition of neo-Nazi organizations” or the Roma would be forced to emigrate en masse from the Czech Republic to Canada. “We are calling on you not to remain indifferent to these provocations, which could result in the mass murder of innocent people. It is also sad and shameful that this threat is posed not only by the neo-Nazi members themselves, but by several of our fellow citizens who sympathize with the neo-Nazis,” Ferenc wrote.

The case was first reported on in detail by the Anti-Fascist Action association, which also published photographs of the defendants. However, their extensive reporting was completely overlooked by the media.

The hearings are taking place at the Regional Court (Krajský soud) in Ostrava, Havlíčkovo nábřeží 1835/34, door number 10 on the ground floor of Building A. The defendant is being represented by Mgr. Roman Krakovka, an attorney with the Miketa and Partners law firm, thanks to the financial support of ROMEA, o.s.