Prosecutor: Czechs started last year's brawl with Romani people in Rumburk
The trial which was supposed to open the case of a brawl that took place more than one year ago - the incident that ended up unleashing ethnic unrest in the Šluknov foothills - basically heard no testimony today and has been postponed until May of next year. The judge did hand down a seven-month sentence for rioting, suspended for 20 months, against defendant Michal Ferenc. She did not consider racial motivation to have been proven in his case.
Ferenc, the only person involved in the incident to be convicted so far, confessed to participating in the brawl. The verdict has taken effect. "I remember nothing about it at all, it was more than a year ago and I was drunk at the time," he told the Mediafax news agency.
According to state prosecutor Miroslav Martynek, the incident began when a group of local ethnic Czechs first attacked a young Romani man. He left the scene and returned with reinforcements who flung themselves on the ethnic Czechs. "However, some of them hung back and did not directly participate in the attack, which is why they were not charged," said Martynek. The Czechs then fled into another building, and the Romani people broke down its exterior doors while pursuing them. The brawlers used collapsible nightsticks and stones against one another. Seven people were finally charged in the incident. Two of the ethnic Czechs ended up in the care of physicians and went on sick leave as a result of their injuries.
Of the seven youths charged, four were juveniles when the crimes were committed. The court has not succeeded in delivering summons to some of them, and several witnesses also never answered their summons. The judge set the next hearing in the case for 21 May 2013.
"There was no success in delivering summons to four of the defendants and to five of the 10 witnesses," Judge Iva Najbrtová said. In her view it will be necessary to hear the case in different segments.
Originally the incident was characterized as one of grievous bodily harm (GBH), but in the end the charges are for battery only. There is a great difference in the length of sentencing between the two; for racially motivated GBH a court can sentence someone to up to 12 years on prison, while for battery the maximum sentence is five years. Juveniles are supposed to receive sentences half that long.
Last year in August the case had an explosive effect, pushing tensions between ethnic Czechs and socially deprived members of the Romani community onto the level of open displays of intolerance. The situation was exacerbated by the Czech media, which reported on the Rumburk incident in an anti-Romani, one-sided manner. After the brawl a demonstration was held in the town which then turned into a pogrom against Romani people, with a mob of roughly 1 500 non-Romani people attempting to provoke skirmishes with local Romani people. Such demonstrations also were held in other places in the Šluknov foothills.
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