Analysis of Czech, German and Hungarian trials of terrorist hate attacks
In August of this year I reported that the trial of the alleged members of the international neo-Nazi network Blood & Honour here in the Czech Republic would begin in the fall. At the start of 2012 those defendants were charged with various crimes, including an arson attack on a building occupied by Romani families in the West Bohemian town of Aš.
Due to procedural delays, however, the main hearing will not take place this fall. How is that possible, given that some of the defendants might face extraordinary sentencing on 18 counts of attempted murder and that according to the indictment, they also planned violent attacks on a church, on homeless people and on politicians?
Are we once again seeing the confirmation that anything is possible in the Czech Republic when it comes to cases of racist violence against Romani people? In the case of Jaroslav H. of Havířov, for example, who became the victim of a frantic spree of nighttime violence by masked racists in various neigborhoods of that town, the criminal proceedings took four years before a verdict took effect.
Of the 12 participants in that group attack, only four were ultimately convicted. They were given light punishments precisely because of the inordinate length of the trial.
Let's take a look at similar cases that have been tried here in the past. We will also analyze current similar cases from abroad.
Four cases from various countries - one manual
A group of neo-Nazi murderers in Hungary perpetrated arson attacks on Romani family homes from a least 2007 to 2009 in various regions of the country. When the victims fled the burning buildings, the neo-Nazis shot them dead.
A first-instance court in Budapest took two years and a total of 157 hearings to finally produce its verdict in the matter this year. Three of the four defendants were sentenced to life in prison, but the judge never filed his verdict within the time period required by law and is now facing disciplinary proceedings.
It is unknown when a verdict that might take effect in this case will be on the horizon. Meanwhile in Germany, a group of neo-Nazis executed foreigners all over the country between 2000 and 2008 for what are not yet completely clear reasons.
A German police officer was one of their victims as well. Police did not track them down until the end of 2011, when two members of the group shot themselves after a bank robbery and the police officer's weapon and the pistol used to murder the foreigners were found left behind in their mobile home.
The first-instance trial of their case has already been through more than 150 hearings, but a verdict is not expected until the end of next year. The judge is investigating in-depth and is doing his best to reveal the entire background to the crimes at issue.
The main defendant in this case has already spent three years in custody. However, there are other such cases that have developed very differently.
During an arson attack in April 2009 in the Czech town of Vítkov (Opava district), masked neo-Nazis set a single-family home on fire with a seven-member family inside it. While the criminal proceedings of that case also lasted two years, the courts managed to close the case with a verdict that took effect during just one year.
That verdict, which involved lengthy but suitable sentencing, has stood up to challenges before both the Supreme Court and, more recently, the Constitutional Court. It's just that the whole background of the crime was never revealed, nor were its ideological architects ever prosecuted.
Now let's return to the ongoing Czech case with the working title of "Blood & Honour". Even though suspects were arrested shortly after allegedly committing the crime, the investigation of the case by the Organized Crime Detection Unit (Útvar pro odhalování organizovaného zločinu - ÚOOZ) has taken two years.
The indictment was filed by the Regional State Prosecutor in Plzeň, but the court refused to handle the case on its own. The arson had been perpetrated by two members of the group in Aš (i.e., in a region that fell under the Plzeň court's jurisdiction), but the court wanted the rest of the group to be delegated for prosecution to the Prague 4 District Court as per the permanent residency of the alleged head of the group.
However, the Prague judge to whom the case was assigned disagreed with its delegation. He successfully filed a complaint with the High Court in Prague against the decision by the Municipal Court in Plzeň to separate the defendants and it is once again being considered as a single case.
Because of these antics, the main trial before the Regional Court in Plzeň has been postponed twice. There is no new date set yet for the main hearing.
Next February will mark three years since 18 people were almost burned to death at the hands of neo-Nazis. Their trial has not even begun.
The victims' perspective is dismal
What do the victims say to all this? By now they have nothing more to say.
I recently visited some of them. After the arson attack they lost not only the roof over their heads, but all of their property, and local authorities placed the children of two of the families into children's homes, reportedly because their parents could no longer provide them with accommodation.
Recently these parents managed to get the court to send their children home; for two years the families have been doing their best mainly to survive and stay together. They evidently are not bothering with the trial of "their" arsonists because they have long since stopped believing in justice.
In all four of these cases the main perpetrators proceeded according to the manual of the international group Blood & Honour: They thoroughly prepared for the crime, there was a high degree of secrecy about it before, during and after, the attack was targeted, their escape was also an attempt to make it impossible to rescue the victims, their escape route avoided roads with CCTV cameras, they have refused to testify in court, and they have risked lengthy punishments. An expert on this issue might expect that the Aš case would be given priority, given the high level of dangerousness of the crimes being prosecuted.
Why is that not possible in the Czech Republic? Several years ago journalists asked then-State Prosecutor Renata Vesecká to respond to my claim that the successful publicizing of a case increases the rapidity of its criminal prosecution, and her response back then was: "That is the case."
Today no one here is interested anymore in the murderous attack on Romani families in Aš that took place the year before last because the media have not reported on it for a whole two years. Where there is no media attention, there is no justice.
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