Analysis: Neo-Nazi murders of homeless in Czech Republic may not even be counted as such
The recent case of the murderous attacks committed by a supporter of the neo-Nazi Workers Social Justice Party (DSSS) against defenseless homeless people, which news server Romea.cz reported on here, has once again pointed out an enormous problem in Czech society which the media are either ignoring altogether or greatly neglecting. Homeless people in the Czech Republic are frequently targeted for brutal assault.
The Government is not paying attention to this, even though organizations aiding the homeless have warned them of the trend on more than one occasion. The number of such attacks since 1989 is estimated in the thousands, with dozens of fatalities.
Czech Television has previously reported on this phenomenon. No publicly available police statistics exist on it for the time being, and this lack of information creates a rather large gap in the recent history of this country.
Human rights organizations who legally represent the victims of murderous attacks against the homeless and who monitor this issue come up against big obstacles. Most of the victims have no relatives to inform the media about the case or request legal aid.
Very often a victim's relatives may never even learn that such an assault occurred. By law, police detectives must preserve confidentiality about a victim's identity.
Instead of appreciating the work that could be done by attorneys for the victims in these cases, detectives rely solely on their own capabilities. This means that the justified entitlement of the victims or their surviving relatives to compensation is usually ignored by prosecutors.
Unlike the accused, who may be prosecuted while in custody, the victims or their surviving relatives are not legally entitled to free legal representation of the sort that is termed ex offo (an attorney assigned by the court). Indeed, police working on such cases frequently never even begin an investigation of them.
Murdered homeless people are generally viewed as victims of their way of life - whoever lives on the street must count on being assaulted at some time, according to many law enforcement officials. Should criminal prosecution of the perpetrators ever occur, they frequently walk away with light sentences.
I once personally witnessed such a homeless person who had been brutally attacked. My friend and I called the 158 emergency number.
The police patrol who arrived at the scene refused to bring me to the station to give a statement. When the ambulance arrived, the officers offered to take me to my own home and said they would inform me of the outcome of the case.
They never contacted me again. I presume there may not even be a police record of that assault.
Where there is no prosecution, there can be no trial. The police have less "paperwork" when they approach these cases this way.
Since it is not possible to present a list of the attacks that have been committed in recent years, I will instead discuss two cases that have been all but forgotten by the media (which is quite wrong) but about which, exceptionally, we know the details. The Prague police department has thoroughly investigated these murders and the courts have handed down long prison sentences to the main perpetrators.
Attacks of a particularly grievous nature
The first attack I want to review occurred on New Year's Day 2011. The following information is from a press release issued by the police spokesperson.
The officers at first had almost no indications as to what had happened - all they knew was that a woman, approximately 40 years old, had died due to foul play. However, even the sparse information the detectives did have was enough for them to solve the case in less than 24 hours.
Today, thanks to the "bravura" work of the Prague homicide unit, both the identity of the murdered woman (who is said to have spoken Czech) and the identity of the perpetrators is known. That same night, officers arrested three youths (one aged 17, two aged 18) who confessed during interrogation to having killed her.
The perpetrators said they had done so to resolve a dispute of several weeks' duration that they had with a small group of persons occupying a grove of trees near Osiková Street.
The main perpetrator took out his natural aggression and his anger over his own dysfunctional family relationships on the victim while under the influence of alcohol.
Two of the perpetrators were charged with felony attempted grievous bodily harm and rioting, while the main perpetrator was charged with murder, which he committed in a particularly grievous way - the victim died as a result of numerous stab wounds and the injuries the 18-year-old caused by kicking and punching her, mainly in the area of the head. The other two face up to 10 years in prison, while the main perpetrator faces between 15 and 20 years in prison as well as the possibility of extraordinary sentencing.
The youths were probably already known to police - it would not have been possible to solve the crime so quickly otherwise. Their report, however, lacked the following information: The victim was a Romani woman from Slovakia, which means the attack could also have been racially motivated.
Whoever put them up to it will do no time
The public learned only randomly, if at all, about the trial in this case. In mid-June of 2012, the Nova television station cited a brief report about it on its website from the online news server Mediafax.
For the brutal murder of this homeless woman, the Municipal Court in Prague sentenced Ota Šedivý (age 19) to 17.5 years behind bars. The court found that he and his two friends had agreed to attack a homeless people's hovel.
They brought a knife, a metal rod and rocks they collected from the railway embankment with them to the scene. During the assault, a woman began to flee, afraid for her life.
The drunken Šedivý set out after her, brutally attacking her about a quarter of a kilometer away from the hovel and kicking her in the face. "When she fell, he jumped on her body and her head, beat her with a brick and stabbed her with a knife," Prague Municipal Court Judge Michaela Pařízková said.
Two other youths, one of whom was still a juvenile at the time, were charged with the brutal attack as well. The view held of them by the police, however, was different from the opinion of the court.
The judge ruled that the other youths had set out for the crime scene only for the purpose of tearing down the shelter. They were convicted of the charge of rioting only and given suspended sentences.
Šedivý was found to have acted alone; while the others did not participate in the murder, they also did not provide the victim with aid, according to the information available. Medical experts testified that even rapid medical attention would not have saved the homeless woman's life.
The court found that Šedivý's attack amounted to murder committed in an especially brutal, grievous way. The woman, according to the court, was alive throughout the attack and experienced a great deal of pain.
The High Court in Prague has upheld that verdict. This youth will therefore serve 17.5 years in prison for the fact that he let himself be talked into killing a person whose life society does not value.
Homeless person burned alive
Another case from mid-August 2010 also happened in Prague and was referred to one year later by the Czech Interior Ministry in its annual report on extremism. The following information is from that report.
On 24 August 2010, four youths gathered in the afternoon by the benches on Adamovská Street in Prague 4 and agreed to go beat up the homeless people who were taking shelter in a small cottage in the forest park on the Bohdalec hill. M. P. (born in 1995) brought a collapsible truncheon with him for that purpose and J. H. (born in 1986) brought a hollow iron rod; all four approached the cottage and began to yell at those occupying it, saying they were going to beat them up and set the cottage on fire - they threw rocks, opened the door and, when they saw victims M. Z. (born in 1963) and M. G. (born in 1957) inside, proceeded to set the cottage on fire with the intention of killing them.
Perpetrator M. P. picked up a shovel and began to throw hot coals from a nearby fire pit at one of the victims, while another person (it is not clear who) used a lighter to set a plastic bag on fire that was covering a window in the cottage. J. H. began to break up the fixtures inside the cottage, to throw burning coals at it, and, using a lighter and a bottle of gasoline, began to set the fixtures on fire.
Victim M. Z. succeeded in running away from the burning cottage, but perpetrator M. P., who was a minor at the time, caught up with him and struck him several blows with a wooden rod, at least one of them in the head, until M. Z. threw himself to the ground and, in fear for his life, pretended to be unconscious. The other victim, M. G., hid from the assailants in the basement of the cottage, which the perpetrators knew he was doing; they continued to throw hot coals into the basement after him.
When the cottage went up in flames, the victim M. Z. did his best to help M. G. get out of the basement, but the perpetrators prevented him from doing so, as a result of which M. G. died at the scene. The immediate cause of his death was carbon dioxide poisoning.
Perpetrator N.B. (born in 1991) watched the other assailants from a safe distance of several meters away and did not attempt to prevent them from proceeding in any way, even though he could have. When the case came to trial, because one of the defendants had been a minor at the time of the crime, it was handled in closed court.
Members of the public were not able to follow the proceedings until the verdict was announced. News server Romea.cz reported on it here.
The Municipal Court in Prague handed down the toughest sentence in this matter against 25-year-old Jiří Harák, sending him to prison for 11 years for murder. Another youth who also participated in the murder was given only 3.5 years in prison because of his young age.
Nelson Badji (age 20) was sentenced by the court to a year in prison, suspended, with two years on probation for failure to prevent a criminal act. The boss of the whole gang, however, was a minor at the tie of the crime, and that means that by law his name cannot be published.
According to the verdict, it was this minor who set the cottage on fire and attacked the homeless man. Because he was under the age of 15 at the time, it was not possible to criminally convict him.
The District Court ordered the boy into institutional care, where he was supposed to remain until reaching majority. According to the prosecutor, prior to committing this crime he was an active supporter of an extremist neo-Nazi movement.
State prosecutor Jana Murínová disagreed with this "mild" verdict and appealed on the spot. She had proposed that Harák get 15 years and that the other young adult perpetrator get seven and a half years.
The defendants also appealed because they believed the punishment was too harsh, but both the High Court in Prague and the Supreme Court in Brno ultimately upheld the original sentence. If the main perpetrator, M. P., has refrained from criminal activity in the interim, then he was scheduled to be released from the institution last year upon reaching majority, and he will have no criminal record.
Important news about Czech society
While the media has recently been buzzing with news items on this issue, legislators have yet to propose tightening the sentencing for attacks committed against homeless people in the way that racially motivated attacks have been considered aggravated incidents since 1995. This despite the fact that the motivation for these attacks very often is based in the ideology of Nazism.
In the eyes of those who perpetrate these crimes, "inferior" people have no right to live. They consider attacks on homeless people to be heroic and expect to commit them with impunity, and the high number of such crimes and the way in which they are being perpetrated shows us where Czech society is headed.
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