Czech trial of racist assault on Prague tram: Eyewitnesses can still come forward, next hearing in January
Some of the eyewitnesses summoned to give testimony in the case of a dark-skinned man assaulted on a Prague tram have testified in court that the football fans accused of the attack did insult the victim in racist terms. However, none of the eyewitnesses managed to give testimony indicating whether the three accused Sigma Olomouc football fans were those responsible for last year's assault.
The main evidence against the accused remains the fact that the victim has identified them. They face up to eight years in prison if found guilty of battery, racial defamation, and rioting.
The victim, a computer programmer of African origin who has lived in the Czech capital for a decade, suffered injuries as a result of the assault committed on 4 November 2017. He was on the tram when a large group of Olomouc fans heading to a match with the Bohemians club of Prague boarded the car he was traveling in.
According to the indictment, the victim was first faced with racist insults, which he ignored. Allegedly somebody from the mob squeezed a lemon on him, at which point he did his best to defend himself, after which some of the fans assaulted him, kicking and punching him.
The victim ended up in the surgery ward of a local hospital with a bruised head and nose and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder to this day as a consequence of the incident. Although the tram was absolutely full at the time of the attack, just two of the other passengers who were not football fans have come forward to testify.
The first such eyewitness told the court earlier this month that he recalls practically nothing and that his memory for faces is no good. Apparently he was reading at the time and not paying attention to what was happening nearby.
While the eyewitness testified that he did see the assault, he told the court that to him it "essentially didn't matter". He also testified that he himself had been attacked three different times in the past and that nobody else had come to his aid during those incidents.
The second eyewitness came forward to the police on her own. While she had disembarked at the stop before the one where the physical assault was perpetrated, she described the atmosphere on the tram preceding the incident.
"I believe they were all a bit drunk, some more than others. They were passing around bottles and shouting terribly. I noticed the black man and it was clear to me that he was afraid. They began to verbally assault him, to shout 'blacks to the gas chambers' and something about lemons. I did my best to look away so I would not provoke them," she said.
This eyewitness also said the fans she observed in the tram were about 35 years old. One of the accused is 22 and the other two are 19 years of age.
Defendants' testimonies confirmed by their friends
The accused - Štěpán Černín, Tomáš Satora and Josef Richard Uhlík - say they are not guilty. They do admit they were on the tram at the time.
They claim not to have instigated any brawling. Allegedly they only saw the incident was happening after they disembarked.
The Prague 10 District Court heard from many other participants involved with the trip from Olomouc to Prague, all of whom testified on 1 November. All claimed not to have noticed anybody dark-skinned on the tram.
They also claimed not to have heard any racist shouting, to say nothing of actually chanting such things themselves. Only one fan, a high school student, confirmed that some of the Sigma supporters had insulted the victim because of his skin color and shouted at him to go back to Africa.
The student also testified that the fans did not physically assault the insulted man until the man himself allegedly attacked a fan. "They ran over there and did their best to drag the victim outside and they were kicking him," the student said.
"Nobody stood up for him, we were all afraid we would be hit too," the youth described, adding that he did not know the identity of the assailants who had so brutally attacked the victim once he was lying on the ground. During a previous hearing, the computer programmer described having been enormously afraid of the assailants and of still being afraid to this day.
"At the I. P. Pavlova stop a big group of people got on," he testified."They noticed me immediately and began shouting at me."
"They said: 'Dirty nigger, you have no business being here, go back to Africa, you're ugly, yuck'," the victim testified. "They were chanting, very loudly and in unison, that blacks and Jews should be sent to the gas chambers."
"They were shouting that Fascism is a good thing," the computer programmer also told the court. He said he did not react to the verbal abuse or the throwing of lemons, but the young men began to come closer and closer to him nonetheless and began shoving him.
"I grabbed one by the coat and put my hand around his ankle so I could hide behind him," he testified. "The others began striking me on the head, the chest and the belly."
"They dragged me out of my seat into the stairwell, all the while punching and kicking me," he told the court. The driver of the tram, according to the victim, did not call the police until after he pleaded with her more than once to do so, and most of the other passengers whom he then asked to testify as to what happened refused to do so.
The driver testified in court on 1 November that she had begun to yell at the noisy fans herself after hearing "something about Jews and [the] Slavia [Football Club] [...] At the Bohemians stop they were swinging their arms and their legs, I didn't know what all was happening."
"I don't know who it was - they all seem the same to me," the driver said, adding that she had not been able to exit her cabin because a fan had blocked the door. The driver added that she has been driving trams for a decade and has never experienced such a situation before.
Victim's attorney: This will depend on the testimony of the witnesses who are not football fans
According to Klára Kalibová of the In IUSTITIA organization, who is the legal representative of the injured party in this case, the proceedings is not over yet. "There will be more testimony by other witnesses who can confirm the injured party's version," she told news server Romea.cz.
Kalibová said most of the witnesses who testified on 1 November are friends of the defendants or football "ultras" themselves, as well as others who decidedly have no interest in seeing the defendants convicted. "One person even testified who was initially suspected of having committed the assault himself," she told news server Romea.cz.
"The police did not ultimately charge that person, though," the attorney said. According to her, three key eyewitnesses will testify next who will confirm the injured party's version of events.
"Moreover, from the testimonies by these eyewitnesses, it will be seen that there were other 'civilian' witnesses - non-fans - at the scene of the crime," she said. "A great deal depends on the testimony of those people."
"Eyewitnesses can still come forward to police," she told news server Romea.cz. The trial will continue on 10 January with more eyewitness testimonies.
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