Czech Republic: Young Romani man from Havířov still seeks justice
Today the Regional Court in Ostrava handed down three sentences without possibility of parole and three suspended sentences in the case of a group of young racists who attacked several Romani people in Havířov on the night of 8 November 2008. One youth was seriously injured in those attacks, suffering cranial injuries. He now has mental problems and is partially paralyzed. An expert witness has testified that if doctors had not operated on him successfully, he would have died.
Karel Takáč, Michal Šebela, Libor Maceček, Martin Šebest, Josef Navrátil, Milan Kasl, Vlastislav Burda and one juvenile have been prosecuted. Three defendants will spend between three and four years in prison, while another three have been given suspended three-year sentences. Another defendant has been acquitted because the court found his participation in the crime had not been proven. The defendants have been convicted of racially motivated grievous bodily harm, some of conspiring to commit it, and some of attempting it.
Michal Šebela and Karel Takáč are to go to prison for four years and a youth who was not yet 18 at the time of the attack will spend three years in prison. The main hearing was closed to protect his identity. The juvenile is said to have been the most active participant in the attack. As a member of the radical hard core of Baník Ostrava fans, he has previously been convicted of violence at a stadium in Prague and also of assaulting a police officer accompanying football fans on a train. He is banned from attending football matches for the next two years.
The judge said that sentences without the possibility of parole were the only option for these three people. "The attack was brutal," she said, adding that the prosecution had alleged it could have been an attempt at racially motivated murder. "However, it was not proven that the assailants wanted to kill the Romani person they attacked. They ceased their behavior of their own accord and witnesses say they did not use any weapons," the judge said.
The other three defendants convicted received suspended sentences. The justification was said to be that they are living honest lives and that they have families and jobs. The verdict has not yet taken effect. Most of the defendants were not in court today and did not make statements about the verdicts. The state prosecutor is considering whether to appeal.
Ostrava attorney Roman Krakovka, who is representing the main victim, Romani youth J.H., gave the following statement: "We are considering filing an appeal against this verdict. We do not agree with the fact that only the three perpetrators who were sentenced without the possibility of parole should have to pay the court-ordered compensation to the victim of CZK 514 200. The others participated in the attack and should have to pay as well, although to a lesser extent."
The legal representation of the main victim was financially supported by ROMEA o.s. and the Europe Roma CZ association, whose representative, Markus Pape, agrees with the state prosecutor in this case. She appealed the court's first-instance verdict, insisting that the perpetrators did not just commit the crime of grievous bodily harm. Pape believes this was an unequivocal attempted murder, noting that the young racists continued their criminal crusade against randomly selected Romani people even after they committed this particular attack.
The group assaulted Romani people whom they randomly encountered on that November day in 2008. Witnesses said that many more people participated in the pogrom than were eventually prosecuted. Even today, the judge referred to the fact that the group had driven in three cars looking for Romani victims. Some of the assailants are said to have been armed with cudgels and sticks.
During the first instance trial, eight people were convicted of the assaults. Only one of those verdicts has taken effect so far; the rest were appealed and returned to the court, which issued its verdicts again today.
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