Markus Pape: Czech Republic's most serious racial attack of 2013 on trial
Next Monday the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem will review the most serious case of racially motivated violence to have occurred in 2013. During the celebrations around the opening of the spa in the town of Teplice, a non-Romani man working at an outdoor sausage stand seriously injured several Romani youths with a knife before stabbing a random Romani passer-by to death directly in front of the Teplice town hall.
A detective who witnessed the crime by sheer coincidence provided first aid to the most seriously injured victim but was unable to save him. The suspect also ended up in hospital, from which he was retrieved by criminal investigators and remanded into custody by the court, where he remains to this day.
Because the case prompted great emotion among Romani people, the victim's surviving family members and the other assaulted youths held a spontaneous commemoration gathering at the scene of the crime, the funeral was attended by Romani people from all over the region, and Romani people demonstrated in front of the Teplice town hall for the case to be thoroughly investigated. No local or national-level politicians ever expressed condemnation of the crime, barely taking notice of it at all.
Mayor of Teplice Jaroslav Kubera refused to speak with the victim's relatives. He issued a statement saying the incident had been a regrettable drunken brawl.
Murdered for his ethnicity, or over a sausage?
The Czech media reported on the case only in the immediate aftermath of the crime and, with the exception of news server Romea.cz, they did so in a highly biased, sensationalistic, superficial way. For the most part, the only version of what happened that was reported was that of the men working at the sausage stand, who charged the deceased man with having stolen a sausage; the media showed no interest in the perspective of those who had been assaulted.
Since then there has been no reporting, no updates on the state of the investigation or developments in the recovery of the other victims, no journalistic efforts to determine the facts. Instead, an enormous media circus began around artificially-inflated cases from České Budějovice, Duchcov, and other towns, cases where the only active participants in the conflicts were members of one of the least favorite ethnic minorities in the country, and where the harm caused was nowhere near as severe as the death in Teplice; the result of that media circus was the series of hate marches against Romani people that took place around the country from May through November.
While the Ústí criminal investigators charged the sausage stand man, Stanislav S., with the first-degree murder of Ivan J. (for which he might even have faced extraordinary sentencing), the regional state prosecutors then allowed themselves to be convinced by the defendant's attorney that the aim of the suspect's wild stabbing had not been to commit murder. The state attorney has qualified the killing of Ivan J. as racially motivated grievous bodily harm resulting in death, where the possible sentencing ranges from just eight to 16 years in prison.
The assailant, whom eyewitnesses said is a martial arts master, has also been charged with assaulting the other two Romani youths and causing them grievous bodily harm - and his reason for doing so was that they were Romani. However, the state attorney has said it was not possible to prove that the suspect intended to commit grievous bodily harm, and therefore he has only been charged with committing light battery resulting in grievous injury.
The victims have taken advantage of their right to have their own attorney present during the criminal proceedings. For his part, the defendant has succeeded in finding a high-quality local attorney; that same attorney, by the way, is also representing (so far successfully) the young Romani woman charged with participating in a nighttime drunken brawl in front of the Duchcov Municipal Police Station, which most of the Czech media reported on as a racially-motivated massacre against an innocent (non-Romani) woman.
What is remarkable about the Teplice case is the fact that a different sausage stand worker provoked the entire incident by shouting racist abuse at the youths as they were walking past, and it was this worker who drew the defendant into the conflict as his backup. That man will be testifying to the court only as an eyewitness, not as a defendant as well.
The consequences of biased media
The coming weeks and months will show whether the Czech media will take an interest in this case, or whether they will continue this year to focus on the often completely fabricated or immeasurably exaggerated cases of "gypsy terror" that have consumed them to date. If they decide for the latter option, then this year's number of hate marches may exceed the capacity of the police to handle them, even though the government recently beefed up their numbers, and it cannot be ruled out that the neo-Nazis might then begin their long-desired "RAHOWA" or "Racial Holy War".
With the aim of determining what exactly happened on the night of 25 May 2013, the Ústí Regional court has scheduled nine days of hearings: 20-21 January and 24 January 2014 in Room 105, and 27 January and 24-28 February 2014 in Room 107, starting at 8 AM at Národního odboje 1274/26, Ústí nad Labem. The trial is open to the public.
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