Czech court fines man for setting rainbow flag on fire, stays silent on homophobic motivation; he says it wasn't him and appeals
Defendant Michal Sýkora has been given a 10-month suspended sentence, to be supervised by a probation officer, and fined CZK 26 000 [EUR 1 000] by a Czech court for setting fire to a rainbow flag and shooting off flares in the direction of people participating in the 2019 Prague Pride festival, which celebrates the LGBT community. The court found him guilty of rioting.
The verdict has yet to take effect and Sýkora, who is on record as having committed rioting at least four other times, immediately appealed. He claims that he is not the person who was filmed committing the actions in question by a participant of the event.
Petra Vytejčková of the In IUSTITIA organization, the attorney for the Prague Pride association, emphasized in her arguments that the court should take the homophobic motivation of the felony into account. The court did not do so.
"All Czech courts should take hateful motivation into account during sentencing, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the case law of the Constitutional Court impels them to do so," she posted to social media. Otherwise, the injured party welcomed the court's decision even though it did not take such motivation into account during sentencing.
Vytejčková recalled that the Czech Constitutional Court has tasked local courts with reviewing bias motivation in particular when clarifying the motives for which felonies are committed. She also pointed out that Sýkora, who was wearing a face mask in court, has a facial tattoo reading "Grassel", a Czech brand of clothing that is much sought after by adherents of neo-Nazism.
Judge Helena Králová of the Prague 1 District Court did not mention homophobic motivation when explaining her verdict. While no eyewitnesses to the incident identified Sýkora as having committed the actions in question, the judge said such identification was not essential.
"The defendant has been sufficiently identified through camera footage," the judge said. The fact that he had repeatedly committed rioting in the past made things harder for him at trial.
Králová handed down the strictest possible suspended sentence, requiring five years' probation. By doing so she fully acceded to the sentencing proposed by the prosecutor.
A small group of people, one of whom, according to the first-instance verdict, was Sýkora, set fire to the rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community, on 8 August 2019 on the Bridge of the Legions in Prague (Most Legií), where such flags had been affixed to the street lamps. They did so after attending a football match played by Sparta, the club of which Sýkora is a fan.
The group also fired flare guns on Shooter's Island (Střelecký ostrov), where an auxiliary program of the Prague Pride festival was underway. Police never managed to identify the co-perpetrators of the incidents.
"I do not see myself in that video and I do not believe it's me," the defendant, who is a 32-year-old certified cook, told the court on 18 February. He claims to no longer remember what he did on the day in question, but denies that he attended the football match.
Part of the sentencing includes the obligation to pay the Prague Pride association CZK 319 [EUR 12] for the destroyed flag.
Sýkora's criminal record includes four previous counts of rioting.
The prosecutor mentioned previously that the defendant had also been convicted of wearing Nazi swastikas. Sýkora's attorney sought his client's acquittal on the current charges.
According to the defense, the video footage is not conclusive, and even if somebody could be identified in it, the behavior captured on film should be considered a misdemeanor at most, in their view. The case will now be heard by the Municipal Court in Prague.
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