Czech Republic: Sentencing in the street brawl that sparked 2011 unrest
Yesterday a court in Děčín handed down suspended sentences against four youths involved in the August 2011 street brawl in Rumburk that launched unrest in the Šluknov foothills. Three juveniles received sentences of between seven and eight months in prison, suspended for 18 months.
A fourth defendant, Kamil Cepero, was sentenced to one year in prison suspended for 24 months. All of the defendants are required to pay the costs of the damages caused.
Judge Iva Najbrtová informed the Czech Press Agency of the verdict. The trial was closed because most of the defendants were minors.
The court handed down relatively mild sentences because the defendants all had clean criminal records as a result of the amnesty announced this past January. "Given that the President of the Republic has changed the situation through the amnesty, I have proposed suspended prison sentences for all the defendants. Two of them were previously recidivists, but their records were wiped clean by the amnesty. We had proposed prison time without parole or probation during the preliminary phase of the proceedings," state prosecutor Petr Minich said.
The sentencing has yet to take effect for the juvenile defendants. Cepero's sentence has taken effect because he gave up his option to appeal.
The defendants were convicted of rioting, property damage, and battery. Cepero was also convicted of racially motivated battery. The juveniles' sentences have not yet taken effect because there was no representative of the state child welfare authorities present at the time of sentencing to express an opinion on the verdict as required by law.
Two of the six defendants in the case did not attend the sentencing hearing and neither did the witnesses. "One defendant provided an excuse, the other did not. They will be sentenced separately," Najbrtová said
There were seven defendants at the start of the trial. Last October the court handed down a sentence of property damage and rioting against one of them.
The judge said none of the victims had sought compensation for damages. Those convicted have been instructed to reimburse the victims' health insurer for the costs of their medical treatment and to reimburse the ČSOB insurance company for the costs of repairing the damaged doors at the scene of the crime. These damages come to several tens of thousands of crowns.
The incident took place in Rumburk during the early morning hours of 21 August. Two groups of youths encountered each other while leaving a discotheque and the subsequent brawl between them involved collapsible nightsticks and rock-throwing.
Police charged seven people in the case. Two victims ended up in the care of doctors. Three of the defendants were charged with racially motivated battery, for which they faced up to five years in prison. The juveniles faced sentences half as long.
The case and the media's biased reporting of it exacerbated tensions in the region between long-established residents and the socially deprived, especially the Romani community. After the street brawl, a demonstration was held in Rumburk during which a mob of roughly 1 500 non-Romani people tried to provoke more fighting with Romani residents.
Similar demonstrations gradually happened in other places throughout the Šluknov foothills, in some particular places repeatedly. The police responded by putting together a special riot unit for Šluknov district.
On 9 October 2012, Judge Najbrtová handed down a seven-month suspended sentence for rioting against defendant Michal Ferenc. Racial motivation was not proven in his case, in her view.
Ferenc confessed to participating in the brawl and his sentence has taken effect. "I don't remember anything, it's been more than a year and I was drunk at the time of the fight," he told the Mediafax press agency at the time of sentencing.
According to state prosecutor Miroslav Martynek, a group of local ethnic Czechs first attacked a young Romani man, who then went for reinforcements. They attacked the ethnic Czechs. "However, some of them hung back and did not participate in the attack. They were not charged," Martynek said.
The Czechs fled into a building, but their Romani assailants broke down its doors and continued the attack. The victims were later deemed unable to work as a result of the injuries they sustained.
Originally charges of grievous bodily harm (GBH) were discussed, but in the end they were reduced to battery. There is a great difference in the sentencing; racially motivated GBH can result in a 12-year prison sentence, while battery can only result in five years.
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