Czech court hears accused assailants of African man deny they racially abused him in any way
Fans of the Sigma Olomouc football team have testified in court and denied racially abusing and assaulting a dark-skinned passenger on a tram in Prague last year as they were traveling to a match. The defendants admitted to witnessing the conclusion of the incident, but described the passenger as having threatened another fan.
If convicted, the three young men could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison for battery, racial defamation, and rioting. The victim testified that during the incident he feared for his life.
Defendants Tomáš Satora and Josef Richard Uhlík will turn 19 next month, while defendant Štěpán Černín is 22. Satora is a certified chimney sweep and currently apprenticing as a glassblower, as is Uhlík.
Černín is studying at a college with an emphasis on computer technology. All are from Olomouc, and traveled from there on 4 November 2017 for the match with Bohemians in Prague.
The indictment alleges that while traveling on tram number 6, the trio and other accomplices assaulted a man of African origin, verbally at first. "They yelled at him that he should go back to Africa, that he is a 'black mug'," the prosecutor told the District Court for Prague 10.
CALL FOR EYEWITNESSES
The District Court for Prague 10 has begun the trial in the case of a group of Sigma Olomouc hooligans committing assault. The incident happened on 4 November 2017 between the I. P. Pavlova and Bohemians tram stops, on the tram itself.
The victim was first assaulted verbally and then physically, approximately at the time the tram was approaching the Bohemians stop. The defendants are denying culpability.
The court finds itself in a difficult situation with respect to evidence. The assault was seen by many eyewitnesses who have never come forward to the authorities, even though police have called for members of the public who were there at the time to do so.
Testimony by eyewitnesses is important, whether it concerns the very beginning of the incident or the subsequent physical assault. People who saw this attack, and whose testimony would therefore be crucial, may have an absolutely justified fear of testifying.
Such eyewitnesses need to know that the Code of Criminal Procedure counts on providing witness protection and the opportunity to testify while partially concealing one's identity. Anybody who has any information at all about this case should contact either the In IUSTITIA organization, which is assisting this hate crime victim, at email@example.com, or should contact the police.
After that verbal abuse, the defendants threw lemons at the man and squeezed the juice of a lemon on him. When he attempted to defend himself, they are alleged to have kicked and punched him, injuring his head and nose in such a way as to require surgery.
The victim has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. He initially sought CZK 300 000 [EUR 11 775] from the defendants for the harm they have caused him and another CZK 304 000 [EUR 11 930 ] as compensation for lost wages.
"This is not true, I did not participate in that," defendant Černín testified. "I didn't even notice the black guy, not until I got off the tram."
Černín said that after he exited the tram and was on the sidewalk he saw the African man scuffling with a different football fan on the floor of the tram. "The black guy was holding the other guy in a choke hold," he alleged.
Defendant Satora admitted that he did join in at the end of the incident, attempting to aid the scuffling fan by pulling him off of the tram by his coat and leg. Defendant Uhlík said he saw nothing of the scuffle.
The victim, a computer programmer who has lived in Prague for a decade and has a PhD, testified from a separate room by audio only and under a pseudonym. Speaking in Czech, he said he had been enormously afraid of the assailants during the incident and is still afraid of attack.
"At the I. P. Pavlova stop a big group of people got on. They immediately noticed me and began shouting at me. They said 'Dirty nigger, you have no business being here, go back to Africa, you're ugly, yuck!' They were also chanting very loudly, in unison, that Blacks and Jews must be gassed. They shouted that Fascism is a good thing," the victim recounted for the court.
The victim testified that he did not react either to the racial abuse or to the lemons being thrown at him, but then the young men gradually drew closer and began to push him. "I grabbed one of them by the coat and put my hand around his ankle so I could hide behind him. The others began striking me in the head, the chest and the belly. They pulled me out of my seat into the stairwell of the tram, constantly kicking and punching me," he told the court.
The driver of the tram, according to the victim, did not call the police until after he repeatedly requested her to do so, and most of the other passengers refused his request to provide testimony. While the defendants have no felony convictions, the prosecutor said they have been defendants in various misdemeanor proceedings, including for physical assault in a bar, for street fighting with other football fans, for illegal use of fireworks, for shouting racist abuse, and for attacking a hockey game organizer.
Czech Police consider the defendants to be persons at high risk of behaving dangerously because they are members of an "Ultras" group. The defendants, however, denied to the court that they are affiliated with hardcore football hooligans.
The victim identified the three defendants during the police lineup and in court by seeing them through a video link. During the course of the proceedings he withdrew his claim for lost wages because he is afraid the defendants could ascertain his identity through the payment procedure.
The attorney for the victim pointed out to the court that at the time of the assault the youths had shaved heads and that they had allowed their hair to grow back for the preliminary hearing. She also pointed out that Uhlík has a tattoo which, in her opinion, is a Nazi symbol.
During the hearing the victim's attorney also complained to the court that the attorneys for the defendants were laughing during her client's testimony. The main trial will continue in November.
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- † 17. 5. 1998, Orlová, Czech Republic: Milan Lacko