Czech terrorist gets four years, judge says he was influenced by the public dissemination of extremism
Yesterday Jaromír Balda was found guilty of causing two passenger train crashes in the Mladá Boleslav area and thereby committing a terrorist attack, for which he has been sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to undergo outpatient psychiatric treatment. The 71-year-old Balda is a fanatical supporter of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" movement (SPD).
The terrorist felled trees on two separate occasions across railway lines in 2017, in addition to which he disseminated fliers with threatening content. Balda committed the threats and the sabotage because he wanted to spark fear of immigrant Muslims among his fellow citizens.
The verdict has yet to take effect, and both the defense and the prosecution are considering appeals. State prosecutor Martin Bílý told the Czech News Agency after the verdict was announced that as far as he knows, Balda is the very first person ever convicted of a terrorist attack in the Czech Republic.
The senior citizen originally faced between five and 15 years in prison. Bílý sought a sentence for him that was one year shorter than the lawful limit, a motion with which the court agreed.
The lower sentencing takes into consideration the fact that the defendant's sanity was allegedly reduced at the time of both attacks - according to a psychiatrist, Balda has an organic personality disorder that influences his behavior and deteriorates his capacity for judgment. Neither collision caused injuries to passengers, but the obstacles on the tracks could have derailed the trains or even been propelled into the engineers' cabins.
According to presiding Judge Jiří Wažik of the Central Bohemian Regional Court, it is also apparent that Balda spent quite some time preparing his criminal deeds. "This was not a sudden idea, a sudden rage, a sudden lapse by the defendant," the judge said.
Balda did his best to make sure society would attribute his crimes to Muslim immigrants. In his view, the reception of such persons onto Czech territory would lead to a loss of "traditional" Czech culture.
The terrorist therefore wanted to provoke his fellow citizens into demanding that politicians take measures against the "migration wave". The pensioner, who had no criminal record before this, confessed to his crimes upon interrogation.
During the interrogation he said he had been persecuted by nightmares about migrants. Wažik pointed out yesterday that Balda had somehow become a victim of manipulation by people who are disseminating extremist opinions in society.
"However, that does not mean he is not responsible for his own behavior. He should have made more use of critical thinking," the presiding judge said.
"He should have been far more aware of the fact that hatred just yields more hatred," Wažik believes. In the judge's opinion, what makes Balda's crimes even more dangerous is the fact that he committed them because he himself was motivated by religious hatred.
"The state must demonstrate, through the power of the courts, that such behavior will be strictly punished because it violates the foundations of the social order of this country," the judge said. Another aggravating circumstance is the fact that Balda committed his crimes over a longer period of time and did his best to erase the clues leading to his identity - according to the court, in a rather sophisticated way.
On the other hand, the court said the defendant was being dealt with somewhat mercifully because of his advanced age. Balda asserts that he never wanted to harm anybody, but according to the judge, he acted with at least indirect intent to cause harm.
"Felling a tree across a railway line assumes unequivocal comprehension of the fact that a train will not be able to brake in time to avoid hitting the tree, that the train will therefore derail, and that any passengers on board the train could be harmed," Wažik said. The terrorist was a fanatical sympathizer of the SPD movement of Czech MP Tomio Okamura - during his 2017 election campaign he donated approximately CZK 12 000 [EUR 470] to the political group and expressed support for it publicly as well.
The Prague 1 cell of the SPD excused Balda's crime on its Facebook page last week and even called him a "modern-day Jan Palach", but that status update was later deleted and the SPD has since distanced itself from Balda's crime. "The SPD movement considers the behavior of the pensioner Jaromír Balda to be unequivocally worthy of condemnation," a press release from the movement reads.
"Desperate, distressed actions of this kind are not now and must not ever be an instrument for solving problems," the press release states. The movement also pointed out that Balda had never been an official SPD member.
The terrorist felled his first tree at the beginning of June 2017 and the second one less than two months later at a different location. According to an expert witness, despite the fact that the engineers used emergency brakes, they did not have enough time to stop their trains, which did not derail only because of random good luck.
The first train hit the tree at 74 kilometers per hour, while the second was traveling 67 kilometers per hour. Balda left fliers In the vicinity of the felled trees reading "Allahu akbar!" (the transliterated Arabic expression for "God is great").
The terrorist then sent similar printed materials to people's mailboxes and posted them in public spaces. The court also found him guilty of threatening a terrorist act because of that dissemination.
According to the verdict, Balda must pay compensation for the damages he caused to Czech Railways and the Rail Infrastructure Administration. Those organizations have estimated the damage caused at CZK 155 000 [EUR 6 000] for the first incident and CZK 63 000 [EUR 2 500] for the second one.
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