Czech MP visits convict doing time for racially motivated murder
Czech MP Tomio Okamura, chair of the "Dawn of Direct Democracy" (Úsvit přímé demokracie) movement and its vice-chair, Jaroslav Novák, visited Vlastimil Pechanec today in prison in Pardubice. Pechanec was convicted of perpetrating the racially-motivated murder of Ota Absolon, a Romani man, in 2001 in Svitavy.
Novák and Okamura are endeavoring to reopen Pechanec's trial, which they claim was manipulated. Novák told the Czech News Agency that one reason they visited Pechanec was to get to know him personally and to learn more details about his case.
"Vlastimil Pechanec's right to a fair trial was grossly violated," Jan Zilvar, spokesperson for Úsvit, stated in a press release. Zilvar went on to say that Novák and Okamura have previously filed several complaints with successive justice ministers over what they claim was lawbreaking during the prosecution of Pechanec.
The party heads now want to submit yet another complaint to the incoming justice minister asking that Pechanec's sentence be commuted. The complaint is to be drawn up by attorney Klára Samková, who will also be heading Úsvit's candidate list for elections to the European Parliament this year.
Dienstbier: Okamura is lowering himself to the level of a certain segment of Czech society
Czech Senator Jiří Dienstbier says Okamura's move is a political tactic to win a segment of "extremist" society over to Úsvit. "The case is one of murder and Mr Pechanec was convicted of that racially-motivated felony through a proper court proceeding both in the first instance and the appeal, where his sentence was increased. Mr Pechanec had a rich criminal record prior to this incident, including stabbing someone else when he was just 17 years old. How else are we to explain this other than that Mr Okamura is lowering himself to the level of a certain segment of Czech society?" Dienstbier said to Czech Television.
The senator agrees that extreme right-wing positions are now making their way into Czech politics. "Mr Okamura is a perfect example of this because he does his best to exploit such sentiments. There's a lot that can be done to counter this, but there must be a thought-through strategy - not populist whistling into the wind, but a really long-term, systemic approach to eliminate the social prerequisites for this," said Dienstibier, who has been tapped to become the next human rights minister.
"Support for this convicted murderer, an icon of the Czech neo-Nazis who organize an annual march on his behalf, evidently shows the direction of Tomio Okamura's future political activity. His populism is beginning to grow into open support for neo-Nazism and pure xenophobia," said Ondřej Liška, chair of the Green Party (Strana zelených).
Úsvit vice-chair Novák said he and Okamura have informed Pechanec of their intention to file a complaint on his behalf. "At this moment, Vlasta would prefer to wait until his request for parole is reviewed. He has served more than half his sentence and will be able to ask for parole some time in March," he said.
Pechanec was sent to prison in 2003 for 17 years. According to the verdict, he stabbed Absolon twice in the abdomen at a discotheque in July 2001.
Absolon died in hospital as a result of his injuries. His common-law wife succumbed to cancer a year later; the couple had two young children at the time.
During his trial, Pechanec called the proceedings an extortion and claimed that the evidence against him had been fabricated. Úsvit vice-chair Novák believes that what happened was not murder: "No one ever considered it murder, it was a standard pub brawl during which several blows were struck and someone was stabbed, but not intentionally."
Okamura played the Roma card during his campaign for the lower house last year. Prior to that he had said Romani people should form their own state and the Czech Republic should support their emigration to it.
Vlastimil Pechanec, violent racist
In August 1997, Vlastimil Pechanec randomly selected Ladislav Pešta, a Romani youth who was standing outside the post office in Svitavy and slashed him with a knife on the right side of his chest, leaving a 17-cm long scar. Doctors said it was a miracle that Pešta survived.
One year before assaulting Pešta, Pechanec and a gang of youths beat up the customers at a discotheque in the Brno area while shouting racist slogans. At the time of that incident he was on probation for one year for organizing a racist march in Svitavy that threw rocks at the homes of Romani people and demolished the interior of one of them, but that did not deter him from committing more violence.
Pechanec was sentenced to two years without parole for the stabbing of Pešta; for the attack on the discotheque he was sentenced to three and a half years in a maximum-security prison in 1999 by the District Court in Blanská, presided over by Rudolf Maňoušek. Pechanec immediately appealed that sentence and the court concluded that it was too strict, sentencing him to probation instead.
Several months later Pechanec assaulted a young anarchist man and his girlfriend at the train station in Česká Třebova. For that attack he was sentenced to 14 months without parole, which he appealed, and before the appeals court could uphold the sentence, he attacked Otta Absolon in the company of other violent racists.
Pechanec has also committed several other assaults or made threats of violence that are not on his criminal record because they were misdemeanors. One such incident involved Pechanec beating up a random passer-by after the man refused to "go hunt gypsies" with him.
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