A quarter of a century ago, 18 racists hounded a Romani man to death; the Czech courts convicted just three
Tibor Danihel, a Romani resident of the Czech town of Písek, was just 17 years old when, on 24 September 1993, a group of neo-Nazis chased him into the Otava river, where he drowned. The subsequent trial of the culprits was a complicated journey from first-instance acquittals for almost all the defendants to an eventual ruling, for three perpetrators, of prison sentences without the possibility of parole.
The death of Mr Danihel remains one of the most infamous cases of racially-motivated violence in the Czech Republic to this day. The adherents of the extreme right had assembled in the South Bohemian town on the fateful day after traveling there from several surrounding communities.
Armed with baseball bats, nunchakus and other weapons, the assailants headed toward "City Island" (Městský ostrov) in the Otava River, where they had spotted four Romani men. Fearing attack, the Romani men all jumped into the river.
The racists then did their best to prevent the Romani men from coming ashore. Three of the victims eventually managed to leave the cold water, but Mr Danihel was not so fortunate.
In mid-October 1994, 18 individuals were charged with being accomplices to Mr Danhel's death and were tried by the District Court in Písek. At the beginning of December 1994, the court acquitted 16 of the defendants and sentenced two of them to conditional prison sentences of one year.
The appeals court overturned that verdict in the spring of 1995, at which point the main investigating detective halted the prosecution of most of those involved, citing a lack of evidence. The legal representative for Mr Danihel's mother, the famous attorney Kolja Kubíček, filed a complaint against the detective with the Czech Constitutional Court.
The court in Písek then received an indictment charging defendants Milan Brat, Zdeněk Habich, Jaroslav Churáček and Martin Pomije with causing Mr Danihel's death. The subsequent trial was complicated and full of reversals.
A definitive verdict was not pronounced until June 1999. For convictions of either racially-motivated attempted murder or racially-motivated murder, the High Court in Prague sentenced Churáček to eight years in prison, Habich to seven and a half years, and Pomije to six and a half years.
At the time of the murder all three perpetrators had been minors, so by law the court was not able to sentence them to longer than 10 years in prison. The fourth defendant, Milan Brat, was acquitted during a separate trial in the summer of the year 2000.
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