Czech state prosecutor and one defendant considering appeal of Havířov pogrom verdict
The Czech state prosecutor and one of the defendants sentenced today for committing a pogrom against Roma people in the town of Havířov are taking time to consider whether they will appeal today's verdict. Of the eight defendants charged, two were acquitted, three were sentenced to between three and four years in prison without the possibility of parole, and three were given suspended sentences of two years in prison.
According to several eyewitnesses, a total of 12 people participated in the attacks of 8 November 2008. Police only succeeded in bringing charges against eight defendants between 20 and 32 years of age. Today the court found that Karel Takáč, Michal Šebela and a third defendant, who was not yet 18 at the time of the attacks, directly participated in the beating of a Roma man, causing him serious injury and therefore received sentences without the possibility of parole. Another two defendants, Milan Kasl and Vlastislav Burda, drove the getaway cars but did not participate in the beating and therefore received suspended sentences along with defendant Josef Navrátil. The court was unable to prove that another two defendants, Libor Maceček and Libor Šebesta, had participated in any part of the attacks.
A police expert who clearly identified the defendants as right-wing extremists played an important role in the case. He submitted evidence to the court that they had participated in events organized by neo-Nazi groups. Some of them also belonged to the skinhead movement or to the radical core of Baník Ostrava football club supporters. "I believe these are the kind of fans of which all Ostrava is ashamed at almost every match," the presiding judge said.
The presiding judge also said that the aim of the group was clear from its members' leanings: "Given their inclinations, it is clear this was a criminal campaign against Roma people. They demonstrated just how courageous they were - it only took four Ukrainian men to chase the 12 of them off. These are cowards who only dare attack only isolated, skinny, 15-year-old boys."
According to the extent of the injuries sustained by one of the young Roma males attacked, the court would have been permitted to qualify the case as racially motivated attempted murder. The victim suffered injuries to his skull resulting in mental problems and partial paralysis. The judge instead sentenced the defendants for the crime of racially motivated grievous bodily harm. "The intent to kill was not proven. It was also not determined that the defendants attacked with weapons," the presiding judge said.
Most of the defendants had been in trouble with the law before, but one 20-year-old youth in particular, whose name cannot be publicized by the media, has the worst record of them all. By law, because he was not yet 18 at the time of the Havířov pogrom, his identity is protected. An active violent criminal and a Baník fan, he is now in custody on robbery charges. He has previously been sentenced for three separate crimes, such as brutally attacking and beating a police officer on a train after a Baník match.
News server Romea.cz reports that the incident in Havířov was recently commented on in the US Senate. "Senator Benjamin L. Cardin gave a speech on 16 February in the Senate of the United States of America in which he drew attention to racially motivated attacks against Roma people in the Czech Republic and Hungary. He mentioned the pogrom against Roma people in Havířov," Markus Pape, a Romea correspondent, told the Czech Press Agency.
"On 8 November 2008 a group of men attacked several Roma people in Havířov. One young man was brutally beaten and almost died. He was in a coma and was unable to speak when he woke up. Even though he has learned to speak again, he has suffered permanent brain damage. He is partially paralyzed, had to interrupt his studies, and many never be able to find a place on the labor market," Senator Cardin said in his speech.
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