Czech court acquits football hooligans accused of assaulting dark-skinned man on Prague tram, prosecutor appeals
Yesterday the District Court for Prague 10 released three fans of the Sigma Olomouc football club who are charged with assaulting a dark-skinned man on a tram in November 2017. The verdict has not yet taken effect, as the prosecutor appealed it on the spot.
Štěpán Černín, Tomáš Satora and Josef Richard Uhlík say they are not to blame for what happened and face up to eight years in prison if convicted of bodily harm, defamation on the basis of race, and disorderly conduct. Judge Ivana Hynková said it had not been unequivocally proven that it was exactly those three defendants who committed the actions at issue.
"None of the eyewitnesses has confirmed that it was exactly these three defendants who shouted the defamatory, racist insults at the victim," she said, adding that the court had based its decision on the principle that when doubts arise, the decision should favor the accused. The defense given by the youths did not, however, completely manage to refute all suspicion that they were the perpetrators, which the judge said still persists.
Such behavior must be prevented and should the guilt of a specific perpetrator be proven, he should be punished for it, the judge added. The victim, a computer programmer of African origin who had lived in Prague for 10 years, suffered injuries as a result of the attack on 4 November 2017.
The victim was on a tram when a large group of Olomouc fans got on, heading for a match against the Bohemians team of Prague. According to the indictment, the victim first had to face racist insults from the group, which he ignored.
Somebody in the mob squeezed a lemon on him, at which point he did his best to defend himself, and some fans began assaulting him with kicks and punches. He ended up in a surgical ward with a bruised head and nose and is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The victim is seeking CZK 300 000 [EUR 11 600] from the assailants in moral damages. He originally sought an additional CZK 304 000 [EUR 11 800] as compensation for lost wages but eventually withdrew that demand because he was afraid the defendants would discover his identity through the payment process.
The prosecutor sought punishments of between two and two and a half years in prison for the defendants. "I am convinced that the guilt of all the defendants has been proven during this trial," she said in her concluding remarks.
The victim himself identified all three of the defendants in a lineup and described in detail how each of them had contributed to the attack, the prosecutor reminded the court. She also proposed that the court find the defendants guilty, on the basis of eyewitness testimony, of expressing sympathies for a movement seeking to suppress human rights and freedoms.
The prosecutor pointed out that each of the three defendants has previously faced various misdemeanor proceedings and police are currently investigating them all for allegedly giving the Nazi salute on a train full of passengers. Klára Kalibová, a lawyer with the In IUSTITIA organization, who has followed the entire case, shares the prosecutors' view.
"We believe the guilt of the defendants and their contributions to assaulting the victim have been proven. The court, however, has relied on testimonies from friends of the defendants and from persons with whom the defendants have committed either felonies or misdemeanors both before and after this attack, while the only three independent eyewitness testimonies are considered insufficient by the court, which is absolutely incredible," Kalibová told news server Romea.cz.
"In such a situation, all we can do is welcome the fact that the prosecutor has appealed. It must be noted that at least two of these perpetrators are notorious football hooligans. They are continuing to commit their criminal activity. One of them even has neo-Nazi insignia tattooed on his body and did his best to convince the court that those symbols are absolutely harmless. This decision will unequivocally have a negative impact on the victim," Kalibová said.
Defense attorneys for the defendants pointed out that none of the eyewitnesses confirmed that the three youths on trial were exactly those responsible for assaulting the victim. They also cast doubt on the identification process during which the victim recognized the youths as the perpetrators.
The victim is said to have also misidentified some people in the lineup as assailants who were definitely not involved with the incident. "No other evidence that could convict my client ... has been presented here," one defense attorney asserted.
The defense also argued that eyewitnesses described the assailants as older than the defendants. Two of the young men are 19, the third is 22.
During previous hearings the court heard from many other Olomouc fans who were part of the trip, all of whom claimed to have never noticed a dark-skinned man on the tram, to have never heard any racist shouting, and to have not engaged in any such chanting themselves. Just one of those eyewitnesses confirmed that some fans had insulted the man.
Although the tram was absolutely full at the time of the attack, just two ordinary passengers came forward to give testimony. The first eyewitness told the police right away that he could recall almost nothing and that his memory for faces is not good.
The second such witness came forward to police on her own. She exited the tram one stop before the assault was committed but described the atmosphere she experienced during the journey.
The fans are said to have been drunk and to have begun shouting "blacks to the gas chambers" and something about lemons after noticing the dark-skinned man. The victim is said to have avoided looking at them in order to not provoke them.
Police say the three defendants are members of the Ultras group and are therefore considered high-risk persons. The defendants deny any affiliation with such hard-core fans.
Speaking in court previously, Černín rejected the allegation that he had participated in the assault. "What happened is really horrible and I condemn it," he told the court yesterday.
Satora previously admitted his involvement in the final phase of the incident, claiming that he had done his best to aid another fan by dragging him off the tram by his jacket and leg. Uhlík said he never saw anything of the scuffle.
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