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Romani family maligned by Czech press repeatedly attacked while asleep

Sedlčany, 21.10.2014 18:50, (ROMEA)
Sedlčany, Czech Republic, 2014:  The busted window of a single-family home occupied by a Romani family living in fear of more such attacks. Repeated re-glazing of the double windows is almost unaffordable for them. (Photo:  Jitka Votavová)
Sedlčany, Czech Republic, 2014: The busted window of a single-family home occupied by a Romani family living in fear of more such attacks. Repeated re-glazing of the double windows is almost unaffordable for them. (Photo: Jitka Votavová)

For the past six months, a Romani family in the Central Bohemian town of Sedlčany has been living with the fear that they will once again be attacked by unidentified hoodlums breaking the glass in yet another of their windows or shouting racist threats outside their front door. The local council has helpfully approved the acquisition and installation of a new camera as part of the municipal CCTV system on their street, which could aid in deterring the incidents.  

Local newspaper attacked the Roma first 

The family called the ROMEA organization's anti-discrimination hotline six months ago. They complained that a printed newspaper called Sedlčanský kraj (Sedlčanský Region) ran several articles during the first half of 2014 discussing members of their family in connection with various more or less serious offenses, alleging they had assaulted local boys over a bicycle, pushed a little girl around, attacked an unnamed mother pushing a pram in front of her home, and making other accusations which the Romani family says were completely invented, undocumented situations of hearsay.

Even though the family members were not named in the articles, local residents were clear on who they were about, as the family are the only Romani people living in town. The family members live in two different homes in the same locality.

"Bicycle theft"

The  Romani family has thoroughly objected to the articles as fabricated and untruthtul; the paper's Editor-in-Chief, Jana Spálenková, is their author. In her article about the "bicycle theft", Spálenková presents only the version of events related to her by the "white" boys who were the alleged victims of an attack by Romani boys their same age, without ever contacting the Romani family to ask for their side of the story.

That is why her article does not include what the mother of the Romani boy has now claimed to us:  That her son was riding a bicycle she had bought for him when he was stopped by three non-Romani boys. They began to push him and swear at him, saying the bike was theirs and that he had stolen it.

The boy began to defend himself and they all fought. The boyfriend of the Romani boy's sister eventually entered the younger boys' tussle and was the only person to stand up for him.

The boyfriend broke up the fight and pushed the younger boys away. In the paper, however, the article described "10 people of various ages" joining the boys' street fight "from the alley".  

The entire local Romani family put together is only seven people. They don't know of any other Romani people who live right in town, just a few Romani individuals living in a residential hotel far away with whom they are not in contact.

Attacks began after the articles

Of course, this did not end with the paper's smear campaign. It began to go as far as attacks on the house where the Romani family live with their child.

A family member who lives on a different street has had no such problems yet and believes the attacks on her relatives are linked to the articles in the local paper, which could have triggered the attackers' sorties. "Nothing like that is happening in front of our building, we have quiet there, so I believe this was sparked by those absurd articles in the local paper," she told news server Romea.cz.    

The "white" owner of the house now under attack is standing up for the Romani family and is of a similar opinion about the incidents:  "I'm glad this family is living there, they are completely easygoing people who have never had any conflict with anybody. If there is another reason why someone is attacking them besides those articles, I don't know what it is. Pressure has even been put on me ever since the articles began to stop leasing that little house to them."

The situation has devolved to such an extent that the Romani family is now afraid of every upcoming weekend, because that is when the attacks occur most frequently as many local residents pass by their house on their way home from the local pubs, fortified with alcohol. "Every Friday we are afraid," the mother told Romea.cz.

Selected incidents

This tense atmosphere, full of the fear of more attacks, is illustrated by some of the incidents that took place after the local paper published its series of articles targeting the family. During the early morning hours of 17 April at around 2:30 AM the family was awoken by someone rattling and striking their front door.

The parents sleep on the ground floor and the rest of the family sleeps on the second floor. While the parents were calling the police, the daughter looked through the curtain and saw two boys and two girls running away whom she believed were drunk.  

She didn't recognize any of them and they were gone by the time police arrived, so the officers also left. The incident scared the entire family.

During the late night hours of 2 May and the early morning hours of 3 May, an unidentified attacker attempted to throw a fire extinguisher through the window of a room in which several family members were sleeping. It was only thanks to a dog barking when it registered movement in front of the house, waking up the father, that the hoodlum was frightened away - ultimately just breaking the fire extinguisher against the concrete lining of the window.  

Local police responded, photographing the scene and removing the fire extinguisher. The attacker had fled by then.

The very next night, at about 1 AM on 4 May, a group of roughly five or six people began to bang on the doors and windows of the house. The rioters are said to have yelled:  "You gypsy swine, we're gonna set you on fire! We'll put you to the gas! This is our town, we don't want you here!"  

When the men in the house came outside, the group fled in the direction of the nearby primary school, from where they again began shouting racist threats. When the police arrived they were unable to find any of the attackers.

Several hours later, at roughlty 4:30 AM, many voices shouting curses and threats could once again be heard under the family's windows. The family could clearly hear the challenge:  "You gypsy fucks, come out here!"

This was reported to the police when the family gave their statements on the afternoon of 4 May. The very next weekend another incident was perpetrated.  

In the early morning hours of Sunday 11 May, again at roughly 1 AM, a gang of youths gathered in front of the house and threw a bottle through one of the windows. Police again were unable to find anyone responsible and would not give the Romani family written confirmation that they had answered their call, even though the family asked for it.  

On Sunday 28 September at roughly 8:30 PM another attack on the Romani family's home took place. An unidentified man threw a paving stone through their window - a big one about 10 or 12 cm long.

The stone broke the window pane, pulled the cornice and the curtain along with it, and flew almost half a meter above the head of the father of the family, who was asleep. It landed on the kitchen tiles, breaking them.  

When the terror-stricken family members asked the responding police officers what they should do, one of them reportedly laughed and said they should barricade their doors and windows, adding:  "So move out." What's more, the officer handled the potential evidence - the paving stone - without putting gloves on, putting it into a torn paper box.    

The family says the officers promised to watch their home for the rest of the evening but left after 30 minutes. At around 10:30 PM that same evening the family found another stone lying on an exterior window sill.

They understood it to be another threat and a portent of another attack. When they called the police, they were reportedly told that it was useless for police to visit the scene when "nothing" had happened.

The most recent attack on the family, for time being, deviated from the weekend pattern. It took place on the evening of Wednesday 15 October, when several people again turned up under their windows, threatening "We'll set your house on fire!"

Both the municipal and the state police responded to the scene. The family, who were frightened, say that one of the state police officers denounced them and told them they were themselves to blame, telling them:  "Someone wouldn't bang on your windows for no reason."

Camera to be installed

Local police are now patrolling the neighborhood near the Romani family's home more often than previously, which the family members feel has probably reduced the number of incidents. "We are very grateful for the municipal police patrols, when they are there, we always feel much safer," a family member told news server Romea.cz.

On the basis of these events, a meeting was held with Vice-Mayor of Sedlčany Miroslav Hölzel, who is also the local Police Commissioner, at the initiation of the In IUSTITIA organization, which is providing legal aid to the family. During that meeting the town leadership promised to raise the question of the option of placing a municipal CCTV camera on the street where the family lives during the next town council session.  

Romea.cz has been informed that this actually will take place as soon as possible. The family considers it important, because it raises the hope of identifying future perpetrators and could prevent further attacks.

First and foremost this is about the security of the members of this victimized family, who are citizens of the town. A second aspect is the cost of repairing the damaged parts of the house they occupy.  

With the aid of the landlord, the family is putting the house in order and gradually repairing it as finances permit. News server Romea.cz is attempting to get a statement from police on this case and will report on further developments. 


Jitka Votavová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Diskriminace, Média, Násilí z nenávisti, Policie



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