Commentary: Why the Czech Police failed at Litvínov
Eighteen years ago, human rights activist Ondřej Cakl was standing out in front of a rural pub as members of the extreme right were holding an "invitation-only" concert inside. Members of the police had arrived on the scene at Cakl's insistence, and he was pointing the skinheads out to them through the window: "There, there, they're giving the Nazi salute!" The police officers, however, said: "We don't see anything." One, turning to his colleague, asked, "Franta, do you see anything?" He didn't.
Back then there was much discussion over why it should be a crime to spread hatred against someone classified in the mind of the majority as a member of a particular group, whether based on nationality, origin, political opinion or past history. Many adherents of neo-Nazism were said to work in the state police and as members of municipal patrols, and inquiries were conducted into those allegations.
However, even in those days the heart of the problem was not the political orientation -or rather, the disoriented values - of individual police officers and patrolmen. Since then, thanks to the ban on the Workers' Party and the professional prosecution and sentencing of the Vítkov arson attack, much in the police has improved.
Today the investigation into the physical assault by right-wing radicals on human rights activist Ondřej Cakl, committed during a march by promoters of the Workers' Party through the town of Litvínov to the Janov housing estate on 17 November 2008, has been labeled a failure of the criminal justice authorities, mainly the police, by the Czech Helsinki Committee. For more than two years now, the only persons to have been punished by the courts in connection with these events are two Roma individuals, for committing hate speech against "whites". Ondřej Cakl is not the only person whose injuries have gone without proper investigation or punishment - riot police officers injured on the scene have also not received justice. The case is truly a scandal.
Why has the Police Inspectorate not taken action? The General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Justice could and should have concerned itself with the delays in the court proceedings and the unwillingness of state prosecutors and judges to request an expert evaluation of the video evidence in order to determine who kicked Cakl and with what sort of force. A court expert in the field of forensic biomechanics has seen the video footage and told Czech Television that even more assailants can probably be identified from it. In Dresden, video footage of violence committed there in 2008 led the courts to convict two neo-Nazis who beat a Prague journalist in the head with a rock. If it is possible to do in Germany, it should be possible in the Czech Republic.
The court in Most, however, has already acquitted one alleged assailant and postponed the hearing in the case of another until the end of May. A power outage meant the court was unable to make a decision as to what proposed evidence to accept. Police officers, state prosecutors and judges tend to be in no hurry; they are not motivated to perform professionally and they minimize hate crimes. The main problem, however, is with the management of the ministries concerned.
In 2006, then-Deputy Prime Minister Nečas rejected a proposal from the Czech Government Human Rights Council to establish an independent authority to review criminal behavior committed by police officers; the entire cabinet followed his lead. Today, the government is arguing over the state of the General Inspectorate of the security corps. The changing of the ministerial guard has intensified the breakdown inside the Czech Justice Ministry as well. At the Czech Interior Ministry, instead of proper oversight and prosecution of the various failings committed under ministers Langer, Pecina and John, there has been a fight over political influence inside the police. The populism of proposals for an agent-provacateur or crown witness has reigned supreme. Under this government, therefore, there is not much hope that either ministry will improve.
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