Czech Police refute rumors that defecation in public pool was done by Roma - defamatory article sparked a racist wave online
A wave of insults, racist posts, and vulgarities against the entire Romani community was sparked at the beginning of last week by an untruthful article written by Jan Vraný for the JV Press server in the Czech Republic. In the article he alleged that a 12-year-old "Romani boy" was responsible for contaminating the Brná swimming pool in the town of Ústí nad Labem.
After the wave of hateful reactions to the article began online, the Czech Police decided to refute this disinformation about the nationality of the person responsible. Municipal sanitation services had to close the pool and water slide on Sunday, 29 July, for the third time in 14 days, with each closure necessitated by visitors' behavior.
This time the police took up the case. One of the visitors defecated in the pool.
"The Police of the Czech Republic do not report the ethnicity or the nationality of perpetrators or victims. Because the article by the JV Press agency reported that this incident involved a Romani boy, many hateful reactions were sparked by it online, so we are refuting that description of what happened. The boy involved was not Romani," police spokesperson Veronika Hyšplerová told news server Romea.cz.
Vraný published the disinformation that a Romani person was responsible immediately on Monday, 30 July, under the bombastic headline "WE ARE THE FIRST TO KNOW". The incriminating sentences were: "A Romani boy who was barely 12 years old allegedly ... contaminated the recreational pool and water slide at the Brná swimming facility in the Ústí area by defecating in the water! Head lifeguard Petr Urban confirmed the incident, saying that the Romani boy subsequently admitted to defecating in the water."
The article immediately became a hit on social networks - it was shared hundreds of times, sparking many anti-Romani, hateful commentaries. "So those black animals will make a mess, shit in the swimming pool and working people have to bear the cost..." one reader posted online in response to the article and the measures taken by the Municipal Services of Ústí nad Labem, which runs the swimming complex.
In response to the reported incident, the operator of the facility announced it had decided to no longer offer lower-price admission during the afternoons. Another reader posted: "I would make the Romani fuckers who took a shit there pay for it, and if they draw welfare then I would take it out of their welfare, plus I would ban him and all his relatives from entering the facility for life."
Another reader responded: "I am not a racist, but I would ban such assholes from entry. They can inflate their own little wading pool in front of their building as best they can and swim there, the swine. If they do not know how to behave like people they should stay in the Zoo, it's monkeys who feel the urge to piss and shit in the water of a public pool."
Other media outlets also reported the incident, but without publicizing the alleged nationality of the young boy. The daily Ústecký deník also responded to the untruths circulating through online social networks.
"Shortly thereafter some social network users speculated that the arrested teenager was of Romani origin. According to the information obtained by Deník, that is not true," the daily reported.
Director of the pool operator has no comment, Vraný insists his error is true
Vraný's article refers to head lifeguard Petr Urban as confirming the alleged Romani origin of the child responsible. News server Romea.cz also wanted to ask him about the incident, but employees of the swimming pool said he was on vacation and that the staff had been forbidden to discuss the incident.
That was confirmed by the director of the Municipal Services of Ústí nad Labem, Martina Žirovnická. She refused to comment on anything about the boy involved, said she had not yet spoken with Urban, and placed all of the blame for the ascription of nationality in the incident on Vraný.
"I do not know where the author got the information for that article," the director told news server Romea.cz, adding that she did not know if he was quoting information from the lifeguard. "I do not have any information confirmed, I have not spoken with the lifeguard, he is on vacation. I cannot do anything about this now," she said when asked whether she would address the incident with the lifeguard somehow.
Vraný, despite the Czech Police issuing a clear statement about the incident, is insisting that his reporting is accurate. "I have it all confirmed and I stand by what I wrote. I received the information that this was a 12-year-old Romani boy," he alleged to Romea.cz before doing his best to refute the information that police have given to Romea.cz .
"The police are not allowed to publicize the nationality given the child's age," the journalist said - despite having published these untrue allegations about the child's nationality himself. "It's not that the Police are lying, it's that they just do not want to say the boy was Romani," he responded when asked whether he believed the police are deceiving the public.
Lawyer: The journalist may have committed a felony
"In a democratic state where the rule of law obtains it is necessary to base assessments on what the police have to say. What the police say in this case needs to be considered the truth," Klára Kalibová, a lawyer with the In IUSTITIA organization, told news server Romea.cz.
"The fact that the police decided to refute speculations about the ethnicity of the person who is said to have committed a particular behavior is a testament to the fact that the police themselves consider this situation to have become highly exaggerated and are acting to protect a certain group of persons," the lawyer added, saying that she believed the journalist may have even committed a felony. "If it could be demonstrated that he consciously held the intention to incite hatred, through his words, against a group of persons or to cause the defamation of a specific group of persons by labeling them incapable of maintaining habits of cleanliness, for example, then that could be a felony."
Transcript of the conversation between news server Romea.cz and the journalist Jan Vraný
Romea.cz: I need a comment from you about the article where you have published something that was untrue. It's the article about the contamination of the Brná swimming pool.
Vraný: What do you mean "untrue"? I have it all confirmed and I stand by what I wrote. Watch what you're saying there.
R: You wrote that this was done by a 12-year-old Romani boy...
V: Yes, that is the information I got, that it was a Romani 12-year-old boy.
R: That is untrue.
V: From whom do you have the information that it is untrue?
R: The police have confirmed it to me.
V: The police are not allowed to reveal a child's nationality because of their age, though.
R: Exactly. On the basis of your article, however, which has sparked this wave of racist posts...
V: In the first place, I do not believe there has been a wave of racist posts, and in the second place, it was a 12-year-old Romani boy and nothing can be done about that.
R: The police have clearly stated that this was not a Romani boy.
V: The police were probably not even there, in that case. I have a person who was right there...
R: Do you mean the head lifeguard?
V: No, another person who was there.
R: You quote the head lifeguard.
R: The director of Municipal Services in Ústí nad Labem has given me a comment saying that she does not know whether or not you may have distorted what was said to you.
V: I did not distort it, I really did not...
R: Are you insisting it was a Romani boy?
V: There were several people there, there were even several Romani people there, his grandma and his mother, I don't know who they were...
R: So are the police lying now?
V: It's not that the Police are lying, it's that they just do not want to say the boy was Romani.
R: I have a clear quote [from the police]: "The boy involved was not Romani."
V: Yes. The police spokesperson called me afterward to tell me that, but that was the information I had...
R: Why haven't you published the information that the police are claiming something other than what you have reported?
V: Once I have it officially from the police, once they send it to me in writing, then I will publish it.
R: You just said the police spokesperson called you...
V: She called, yes, but just because somebody calls... I just wanted... Until she sends it to me...
R: When people called to tell you the boy was Romani, you published that...
V: Yes, that I published.
R: The police called you too, though, so ...
V: It's because the police spokesperson was not there. The person who was there probably saw it.
R: The police are investigating it.
V: Yes, the police are investigating, but it's the police spokesperson who has the distorted information.
R: Fine, thanks.
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