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Czech court hearing continues on attempted pogrom against Roma in Havířov

Ostrava, 7.12.2009 19:54, (ROMEA)

Today the Ostrava Regional Court continued its hearing of a case of racially motivated attacks on Roma in the towns of Havířov and Prostřední Suchá in the Silesian region. A group of racist assailants attacked several Romani people one after another there in November 2008. A 17-year-old Romani youth (who was 16 at the time of the crime) suffered serious injuries as a result. According to medical reports, he almost died at the time and has been permanently disabled as a result of the attack. One of the accused was not yet 18 years old at the time of the crime; the main hearing is therefore being held in closed session. The ROMEA civic association is financially backing legal aid for the victim of the brutal attack.

Police Captain Rostislav Chobola, an expert on extremism, testified during today’s hearing, familiarizing the court with the previous activities of the accused, such as the fact that they had previously participated in neo-Nazi events of various kinds. Even before the attack, the police database already listed all of the accused as aggressive football hooligans or neo-Nazis. The accused are members of Thugs Havířov, the fan club of the Baník Ostrava soccer team. One of the accused, M.K., is also an active member of National Resistance, the most dangerous neo-Nazi group in the Czech Republic.

Several eyewitnesses who happened to be inside various buildings near the crime scenes concerned were also interrogated today. According to Roman Krakovka, the victim’s legal representative, the questioning of these witnesses did not significantly move the evidence forward.

Some Romani eyewitnesses to the attacks did not make it to court today, Romea.cz reports. “I believe they did not come because they fear the consequences,” said Markus Pape, the Roma rights activist who is also attorney-in-fact for the family of little Natálka Kudriková. Pape’s analysis corresponds to Romea’s previously reported finding that the family living closest to one of the crime scenes moved away from the residence after someone warned them of the consequences should they testify about the incident in court.

Witnesses also testified for the defense, concentrating primarily on portraying the accused as “decent” people who would never participate in an attack on Roma. The prison services also brought David Dembinski, formerly a leading representative of neo-Nazi organizations in northern Moravia and Silesia, from his prison cell to the courtroom. The case file shows that Dembinski is definitely connected with the accused. "He wrote to the court on his own initiative from prison, saying he wanted to testify in the case and asking to be brought there. However, today he said he does not recognize those accused at all. This was all just an act,” Pape told ČTK.

Several years ago, Dembinski was very actively engaged in neo-Nazi and ultra-right organizations, running for town council in Ostrava on the ticket of Sládek’s Republican Party and founding the neo-Nazi organization National Resistance Silesia. Earlier this year he was sentenced to three years in prison for extortion after using violence to force a restaurant owner to hand the restaurant over to his control. The Ostrava District Court will also soon be hearing the case of a shooting incident in Stodolní street during which Dembinski was holding a pistol while settling his affairs with another business person.

At the request of the defense, the court also ordered a psychological evaluation of the accused to determine the veracity of their testimonies. Attorney Krakovka says it is better for such an investigation to be performed now; otherwise, should there be an appeal, the High Court could order the entire proceeding to start over from the beginning should such an investigation be lacking.

When asked whether he could predict how the hearing will turn out on the basis of the evidence introduced to date, Krakovka said: “The judgment will be based on indirect evidence, I do not want to make predictions … the verdict will be conditioned by the degree to which the court believes the accused participated in the commission of these crimes.” Pape believes the court is not ascribing the kind of significance to the case that it deserves: “In my view, there is enough evidence for all of the accused to be sentenced for their complicity in racially motivated attempted murder.”

According to an expert medical evaluation, the assailants caused the victim, J.H., “heavy injuries which seriously endangered his life”. Had he not received rapid medical assistance and several successful, very costly operations, he would have died. His cranial injuries were caused not only by the assailants kicking him, but by their use of a metal stick called a gola and a 65 cm long collapsible nightstick, both of which were confiscated by police.

The victim has had to end his studies due to the permanent disability he has sustained as a result of the attack. The medical report says he is entitled to CZK 100 000 in compensation. Should the accused be convicted, they will pay an even greater amount for the costs of the victim’s treatment.

The hearing has been adjourned until 22 and 23 February 2010.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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