Analysis: Right-wing extremists dominate Czech Senate hearing thanks to Czech Senator Antl (ČSSD)
Yesterday the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Senate of the Czech Republic held a public hearing on the topic "We Want Equal Standards - Sentencing and Legislation." The senators apparently decided to hold a hearing on this (non-existent) problem at the urging of the "Movement to Efficiently Address the Issue of Inadpatable Inhabitants", or HERPNO ("Hnutí za efektivní řešení problematiky nepřizpůsobivých obyvatel").
The hearing took place in the main hall of the Senate, which was completely filled with senators, judges, state prosecutors, police officers, people from non-governmental initiatives, and right-wing extremists. This legitimization of the ideas of the ultra-right and their representatives was facilitated by the chair of the Czech Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Miroslav Antl (elected for the Czech Social Democrats), who convened and managed the hearing. In addition to others, the well-known and very active extremist Jan Kopal was present, as was the man who has been the main ideologue of the Czech ultra-right for years, Jan Skácel, who was even permitted to speak and was received as a credible figure.
On its website, HERPNO published the following: "On Wednesday 2 June, representatives of our association met in Prague with Czech Senator JUDr. Miroslavm Antl, who had promised our association official support for our 'We Want Equal Standards' initiative. Senator Antl identifies with our opinions and will support in the upper chamber of the Czech Parliament the adoption and discussion of the petition that has been signed online at www.chcemestejnymetr.cz by around 13 000 citizens."
The hearing had three levels to it: A legal/legislative level, a level addressing the merits of the case which prompted the hearing, and a purely political level. Experts were called upon to give testimony at the legal level, including the president of the State Prosecutors' Union, while at the politicized level the main actors were right-wing extremists and yet another anti-Roma warrior, another senator elected for the Czech Social Democrats.
During this section of the hearing, the speakers covered two areas of questions: Whether to reduce the age limit for criminal liability to below 15 years of age, and whether to increase the sentencing options for juvenile perpetrators convicted of serious felonies. František Korbel, Deputy Czech Justice Minister, started his speech with a question: "Would the reduction you are proposing in the criminal liability age limit for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes, such as the one committed in Krupka, deter such crimes from being committed? I am afraid it would not." In his view it is necessary to create such a deterrent not through repression, but primarily through prevention, for example by working with abused children, of whom there are many and whose numbers are growing.
However, Korbel then went on to say that the Czech Justice Ministry would not stand in the way of a justified increase in the felony prosecutions of juveniles. At the initiative of his ministry, criminal sentencing options had already been increased for serious felonies committed by adults.
The Czech Justice Ministry is also designing a new tool, custodial treatment for perpetrators who have been diagnosed with some sort of abnormality. "Anyone could be ordered by the court to undergo custodial treatment irrespective of their age, for as long as is necessary. At a minimum of once a year the court would review whether the reason for the custodial treatment still exists," Korbel told news server Romea.cz. This proposal was scheduled to be reviewed by the Czech Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs earlier today.
Jaroslav Hruška, Deputy Czech Interior Minister, said the Czech Interior Ministry is not against tightening sanctions for serious felonies. He also praised the ministry for its good conduct of the fight against extremism. A few days prior, the ROMEA association stopped its cooperation with the ministry because it is convinced that the ministry is not waging that fight well.
Stanislav Rizman, chair of the Criminal Committee of the Czech Supreme Court, said he would be in favor of increasing the extraordinary sentencing options for juveniles from the current range of five to 10 years to a range of six to 12 years. Stanislav Mečl, Deputy Supreme State Prosecutor, gave a speech indicating that the overall number of persons under investigation for criminal activity is declining, including juveniles. In his view, people with experience in criminal prosecution are opposed to lowering the age limit for criminal liability. The results of a poll conducted among judges show that 64.5 % are opposed to lowering the age barrier, while 24.8 % are in favor of it. As Mečl emphasized, most European states apply the same or similar age limits to criminal liability.
Libor Vávra, emeritus president of the Judge's Union of the Czech Republic, is convinced that the Czech Republic is one of the world's safest countries, at least as far as serious felonies such as muggings, murders, and rapes are concerned. "At the same time, we have one of the largest prison populations in Europe. Do we have enough money and prison space to reduce the juvenile age limit for criminal liability and increase sentencing?" Vávra asked. In his view, there is no point in changing the law. "What is essential is that we work with young people so they will not commit more felonies. That is the role of society, not increasing sentencing." In his view there is also no direct relationship between tightening sentences and a decline in serious felonies, and a lengthier sentence does not guarantee a higher degree of probability that a perpetrator will refrain from further crime.
On the merits of the case
Lenka Bradáčová, president of the State Prosecutors' Union of the Czech Republic and Deputy Regional State Prosecutor for the Central Bohemian Region (the state prosecutor who oversaw the case of Patrik from Krupka) opened her remarks by saying she would discuss the merits of the case. She then discussed the initiative demanding perpetrators be judged by equal standards. From her remarks it became clear that this group is only one of many such pressure actions and groups doing their best to see their populist opinions enforced. "The state prosecutor, however, proceeds and will proceed according to the law, not according to whether society applauds us," Bradáčová said.
She then gave examples of the behavior of these pressure groups, ranging from stirring up emotions to fraud to direct pressure. "In the case from Krupka, thanks to the doctors involved, photos of the victim were leaked. Right-wing extremists immediately exploited the opportunity to post these photos to their websites. Subsequently, crooks used Facebook to collect money for the victim's family, even though they were not taking care of him - the victim lived in a children's home. The pressure continued with right-wing extremists writing challenges and letters."
The state prosecutor requested the maximum sentencing. Society was protected from future predations because the perpetrator was placed in what is called protective detention. "This is a facility where security measures are even stricter than in prisons," Bradáčová told news server Romea.cz during an intermission in the hearing. "Neither the media nor the right-wing extremists have ever mentioned that fact."
During her testimony, Bradáčová gave an example of another case of sentence reduction in which two juvenile non-Romani perpetrators attacked an older woman (aged 85). One of them murdered her by stabbing her with a iron rod. The judge convicted both juveniles of murder. The state prosecutor then appealed on behalf of one of the defendants and requested that his sentence be reduced because he had not committed the murder and had no prior knowledge of what the perpetrator would do. "None of the right-wing extremists ever spoke up then that they want equal standards for all," Bradáčová said. She then said she was reflecting on what the real reason was for the right-wing extremists speaking up only about the Krupka case - whether it was not because the perpetrators in that case were Romani, instead of an alleged desire for equal standards.
Ultra-right political speeches
A typical ultra-right speech was then given by Pavel Vaníček of HERPNO. He repeated the extremists' usual lie, that the state privileges Romani people by not investigating and prosecuting crimes they commit, and condemned the state for supporting Romani people through social welfare, which he would immediately abolish. He also painted non-governmental organizations focusing on human rights and the life of the Romani people in the usual colors, labeling them pseudo-humanists to whom the state should not give a single crown because they are just making the whole situation worse and the money the state gives them disappears without anyone knowing where it's gone.
During his entire lengthy speech, Vaníček gave only one example which, in his view, proves that the state does not hold Romani people to the same standards as it does anyone else, and that was the example of the reduction in sentencing for one of the Romani juvenile perpetrators in the Krupka case. Even after testimony by the author of this article criticizing Vaníček for, among other matters, not giving more examples and merely generalizing from a single case, this ultra-right activist was unable to provide any other examples. Vaníček also threatened that society would radicalize if the state does not start applying the same standards to all. In conclusion he praised Jiří Antl for inviting him to the Senate. Mr Skácel's testimony was made in a similar vein.
Czech Senator Pavel Lebeda (elected for the Czech Social Democrats) then gave an anti-Roma speech which would have done DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas proud. His mildest claims included the statement that Romani people are terrorizing neighborhoods. Lebeda spoke using the same half-true, mendacious, simplistic examples used by neo-Nazis at their gatherings, and using them in the same way.
Jiří Antl, chair of the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, assisted this by emphasizing during the time for discussion that participants would not be permitted to speak longer than three minutes - and then permitting speakers who bad-mouthed and cursed Romani people to speak as long as they liked. Thanks to Antl, the discussion was dominated by Lebeda, Skácel, and Vaníček.
Jiří Antl also praised himself during the public hearing for having resisted pressure from above when he had been the prosecutor in charge of the Helena Biháriová case. He claimed his superiors and politicians had pressured him to qualify that crime as racially motivated, which he did not. In that case, drunken sympathizers of the skinhead movement attacked Biháriová on 15 February 1998 in Vrchlabí and chased her into a flooded river, where she drowned. When Eliška Pilařová attempted to pull Biháriová out of the rushing water, she almost lost her life as well.
- Czech Agency for Social Inclusion accuses paper of anti-Romani campaign
- Help Romea.cz win support from Vodafone
- Czech Republic and "gypsies" - 1938 vs. 2012
- Czech Republic: Equal Opportunities Party to protest local-level anti-Romani moves
- Czech mayor: Romani people face lynching unless rape suspect taken into custody
- Czech municipality gets tough on Ostrava ghetto residents again
- Czech Republic: Proud Romani students in IT, medicine, and natural sciences
- Prosecutor: Czechs started last year's brawl with Romani people in Rumburk
- Roma Pride 2012 marches through the center of Prague
- Czech Republic: 70 ultra-rightists march on Romani neighborhood
- Czech Republic: Project commemorates postwar Romani labor
- European experts compare experiences working in socially excluded localities