Czech Republic: Eight "crimes" alleging Romani perpetrators in Šluknov district were pure fabrications
Mayor of Varnsdorf Martin Louka is concerned that unrest will continue in his town this spring. He is of the opinion that in addition to actual law-breaking, the spreading of rumors will contribute to raising tensions. In an interview with news server iDNES.cz, Louka said there have been many fabricated reports of Romani criminal activity in Varnsdorf.
"There were rumors that the daughter of an influential local Vietnamese businessman had been raped, that a mail carrier had been attacked, and that several youths had been assaulted and robbed when in reality they had lost their money in a much more prosaic way. None of these incidents ever occurred. The invention of these rumors tangibly increases the tense atmosphere in town and damages our reputation. The situation here is not at all as horrible as it might seem from the newspaper headlines and television reports," Louka said.
News server Romea.cz sent the following series of questions to Děčín Police spokesperson Vojtěch Haňka in order to verify whether the mayor's opinions were founded:
Has the daughter of a Vietnamese businessman been raped?
Has a mail carrier been attacked?
Did the assault and robbery of the youths mentioned above take place?
Do you know of other rumors or reports of crime that could not be confirmed?
How many crimes have been reported in Varnsdorf that might be racially motivated?
During the past six months or more, in addition to actual assaults and thefts, Haňka said several fabricated cases "were enacted". "From the official police statistics it is not possible to calculate the number of cases that were fabricated, so I can only provide you with approximate data. I succeeded in determining that there were approximately eight cases of fabricated crime reports. Five were allegations of robbery and three were allegations of personal theft," Haňka told news server Romea.cz.
As for the cases described by Mayor Louka, the police spokesperson said the following: "The first two cases you are asking about were, by all indications, rumors, while the third, given that there is not enough to go on, I don't know where to put it - whether it is a reported case which has been shelved, or a rumor. Seven of the fabricated incidents were alleged to have taken place in Varnsdorf and one was alleged to have taken place in Šluknov. There are various motivations for faking an assault or theft. In one of these cases the person had actually lost the money reported stolen by playing the slot machines."
Haňka said the same would hold for fabricated racially motivated crimes of rioting or bodily harm. "Those can't be tracked in the statistics either. Nevertheless, racial motivation was proven for the assault in Rumburk of 21 August 2011, for the brawl at a restaurant in Šluknov on 6 September 2011, and for the assault in Varnsdorf on Žitavská street on New Year's Day 2012," Haňka said.
Let's review those three events.
The "assault in Rumburk on 21 August 2011" refers to the skirmish that was extensively publicized by the media, sparking unrest in Šluknov district. While the incident was an ordinary brawl, the Czech media featured only one side of the story in its reporting. The media reported that a small group of six non-Romani youths left the Hvězda discotheque and hid in the entryway of an adjoining building out of fear they would be assaulted by about 20 Romani people who followed them. The Romani assailants reportedly broke down the doors so three of them could burst into the building and beat the non-Romani youths with collapsible nightsticks. One victim was hospitalized for fractures. Witnesses said the attackers shouted curses such as "Czech swine" during the assault.
News server Aktuálně.cz did follow-up reporting presenting details from the investigation of the case. It turned out that the case may well have been a brawl between two gangs of drug dealers. "Aktuálně.cz has determined, and the police investigation has made it clear, that this violence occurred between two groups living in Rumburk and the surrounding area who already knew one another, had encountered one another that night prior to the brawl, and mutually provoked one another," the news server reported. Their investigation describes the event as a brawl between four or five people on either side. The other people present either just watched or did their best to prevent the violence, as is confirmed by witnesses and others familiar with the police investigation file. Curses were shouted by people on both sides.
News server Romea.cz published the testimony of one of the Romani people who participated in the conflict. His testimony is at least as reliable as the testimony of the non-Romani people who were quoted by the media immediately after the brawl occurred: "We were walking home from the discotheque. There were 12 of us, not 20. One of the locals ran up to us and told us that six white guys were beating up a Romani guy. We ran over there and five of us, not all 12, got into it with some white guys. Everyone was cursing one another as black and white swine. The version reported on the TV news is completely wrong." Police have since charged seven people in this incident.
As for the Šluknov pub brawl between Romani people and "whites" in September of last year, it does not look like a racially motivated case according to the available information. Šluknov Police and reinforcements from the Prague special forces units intervened at the scene. At the time some Czech media outlets reported that the Romani people involved had been demanding protection money from the barman, but Mayor of Šluknov Eva Džumanová has denied that was the case.
"I was not there, but the information I have is that this was between a small group of Romani people and locals. Police came to the scene more than once, but no one wanted them to deal with it, they are said to have pretended nothing was going on," the mayor said. However, she definitely said no protection money was involved. The altercation reportedly took place without anyone suffering physical injury.
Just after midnight on New Year's Day 2012, an attack is also said to have taken place in front of the Sport residential hotel in Varnsdorf. At the time, police investigated whether the assault had been racially motivated, but were unable to determine motivation and investigated the case as one of rioting. A TV Nova report said that a non-Romani couple were accompanying their adult son to a taxi when they were assaulted by a group of youths. One of the victims said the youths physically and verbally assaulted his father, whom he did his best to defend. He was struck from behind and woke up in the hospital. The man said the assailants were Romani.
Vice-Mayor of Varnsdorf Karel Dubský drew attention to discrepancies between this version of events and the available evidence. He told Romea.cz that he found it strange that while the incident reportedly took place at approximately 1:45 AM on New Year's Day, the attack was not reported to police until 2 January. He also said: "The victim testified that they attacked him in front of the residential hotel, but the town has the video footage from the security camera there. The police asked us for it and we gave it to them. The footage shows something odd, which is that while various people were moving around on the street near the Sport residential hotel on New Year's Eve, the victim is not one of them. If the assault took place, it did not take place where they claim it did," Dubský said.
Detectives have since arrested and charged two Romani suspects. In addition to bodily harm and rioting, police officers say that one of the assailants committed the crimes out of racial motivation. Both suspects were released on their own recognizance and face up to three years in prison if convicted.
We also investigated one more case, the assault on 72-year-old Ms. Kohoutová in September of last year. Two masked assailants, according to information released at the time by Vojtěch Haňka, were said to have pushed the woman to the ground and said to her "that's for your son" before fleeing. Police said the woman who was assaulted is not related to convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout. There was no robbery, but Ms Kohoutová's face was injured during the fall. No racial insults were expressed during this attack. "The case of Ms Kohoutová has been shelved because we could not identify the perpetrator," the police spokeperson has now told Romea.cz.
Police officers have been investigating the following crimes, according to Haňka:
Section 355 - Defamation of a group of people on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, race or other criteria - one case has been shelved, charges have been filed in another.
Section 403 - Establishing, supporting and promoting movements aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms - two charges filed.
Section 404 - Displaying sympathy for a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms - one case has been shelved.
Section 405 (Section 261A) - Denying, doubting, approving of and justifying genocide - two charges filed.
About four other cases have been handled as misdemeanors against civil coexistence; they concerned verbal altercations. "The shelved cases concern unidentified assailants or the finding that a crime was not committed," Haňka said. Romea.cz will continued to investigate other details for all of the cases reported on in this article.
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