Security lax at Czech trial of alleged ultra-right arsonists and others
Aš, Hodonín, Praha, Sokolov and Trutnov: These are the names of the different places where the defendants in the first prosecution for racist violence to be investigated by the Organized Crime Detection Unit's Department of Extremism and Terrorism have come from. While this is the largest case of its kind ever to be solved and brought to trial, Czech media reporting on it has been very brief.
The indictment features 11 points and the various defendants are charged with different crimes. These include carrying out an arson attack on a building occupied by Romani families and individuals in the West Bohemian town of Aš, setting a wooden shack on fire in Prague, planning to set a Catholic church on fire in Kladno, calling for the Central Headquarters of the Communist Party in Prague to be attacked, and establishing an organized online group to promote Nazism.
The Regional Court in Plzeň began to hear the case from 9 - 12 February 2015. What was surprising was that the hearing took place without any security measures in place, which meant the defendants were given the opportunity to influence one another in the corridors of the courthouse while waiting to enter the courtroom.
During the trial no court security officers were watching over the proceedings either. The trial was opened by Regional State Prosecutor Jakub Kubias, who read the indictment into the record for roughly an hour.
Kubias emphasized that the most serious of the crimes at issue was the arson attack committed in Aš on the night of 26 February 2012 which threatened the lives of at least 10 adults and eight children. He said defendants Michal P. and Tomáš P. "were members of a neo-Nazi, racist organization who performed the attack after previously planning it" in such a way that it would result in "preventing the victims from being successfully rescued to the greatest extent possible" - not only did the perpetrators throw Molotov cocktails through the windows of a residential hotel, but they also set a fire in the hallway of the only access door to the building.
Moreover, the defendants allegedly approached the scene of the crime in such as way as to avoid CCTV systems and any eventual witnesses, setting the fire at night, when they must have presumed the occupants of the building were asleep. At the scene, during the perpetration of the crime, both men were masked, according to an eyewitness.
The perpetrators had to have known that there were children younger than 15 living in the building. According to the Právo daily, the police file states that Jan B., the main defendant and self-appointed leader of the Czech section of Blood & Honour, warned the perpetrators shortly after the crime had been committed that it had not been enough of a clearly identifiable "signature attack" by their group and had not caused enough damage.
The attorney for the victims submitted a motion for compensation in the name of the five children of one of the families living in the residential hotel at the time. The compensation sought for four of the children is CZK 100 000 each, but a million crowns is being sought for a little girl, two years old at the time of the attack, who inhaled toxic fumes from the smoke.
Unlike the state prosecutor, who blames only the direct perpetrators for the arson attack, the victims' attorney is insisting that the main defendant, Jan B., also pay compensation for inciting his co-defendants to commit arson and instructing them to keep the attack secret. An insurance company is also seeking more than a million crowns as reimbursement for a shack that was burned to the ground in Prague.
"Inadaptables live there..."
Defendant Petr H., a successful entrepreneur from Sokolov, is charged with producing t-shirts for Jan B. with the symbol of the Blood & Honour organization and the inscription "Combat 18 - Kill You". Police found a larger number of Nazi propaganda-related objects belonging to Petr H. in his parents' apartment and also found functioning weapons in his workshop for which he did not have a license.
Photographs were also found of Petr H. giving the Nazi salute. His defense is that he owns an agency that produces promotional materials and that he considered the t-shirt order to be an ordinary order for such goods.
Petr H. claimed he did not understand the inscriptions on the t-shirts and also claimed he had previously refused to produce t-shirts with the inscription "Blood & Honour" because he knew it is a criminal organization. He also claimed not to run the workshop on his own and to have been unaware of the existence of a safe there with a weapon stored in it; he also said he considered the objects and photographs found at his parents' house to come from the time of his youth, when he was interested in history.
In court Petr H. complained that he and his girlfriend have been planning to start a family for years now, but the fact that the criminal proceedings against him have lasted almost three years has prevented them from realizing those plans. He also claimed to have traveled on vacation to African destinations where he claimed to have had no problem eating food cooked by Africans.
Čeněk N. (age 24), an unemployed man from Prague, is charged with participating in setting a shack in Prague on fire but claimed he did not do it. He testified that he just watched as it began to burn.
When the shack went up in flames, Čeněk N. testified that he was shocked, that he fled through the forest, and that he took public transportation home. In his defense he told the court that the shack had been set on fire by "someone else" whom he is afraid to name because prior to his arrest, that individual had threatened to kill him, his dog and his family if he were to identify the person.
The attorney for the victims asked Čeněk N. whether he had determined if someone was inside the shack prior to the fire, and Čeněk N. said he had not. He also testified that the "other person" told him prior to the incident that "left-wingers" used the structure for meetings, but that it had ultimately turned out that no such people had ever been there.
Michal P. (age 34), a warehouse worker from Aš, refused to testify in court, so the judge read his previous statement to police into the record. When detectives asked him why he had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the residential hotel in Aš, his answer was: "Just because".
A friend of Michal P.'s, according to him, got "an idea for us to do something". The pair then bought 2.4 liters of gasoline at a station, scavenged glass bottles from garbage containers, and used them to make Molotov cocktails.
The perpetrators then went to the residential hotel on Nádražní Street in Aš. "I knew that inadaptables were living there," Michal P. told police.
Tomáš K., according to Michal P., threw a Molotov cocktail at a window before Michal P. also threw one "at the building". He told police it had all been Tomáš K.'s idea and that he had let himself get excited about it.
In court Michal P. would only add: "I never wanted to hurt anybody". He rejected the charge that he had become a member of a neo-Nazi group.
"No organization exists..."
Michal P.'s sister-in-law, Petra L. (age 30), the former girlfriend of the main defendant, Jan B., who was living in Prague at the time of these incidents, also refused to testify in court. She did read a statement claiming that while she had been an extremist earlier, she no longer is one today.
"I have changed my worldview," Petra L. told the court. According to the indictment, she participated in establishing the organization in Aš called Combat 18 Sudetenland and motivating its members, following the instructions of Jan B., with gifts in exchange for work on behalf of the organization, including perpetrating violent actions; she also collected membership dues and participated in creating the organization's website, which was administered by her then-boyfriend, Jan. B.
In her first statement to police, Petra L. said her boyfriend had created and managed the website of the extremist organization, that she herself had contributed to establishing a branch of the organization in Aš, and that she had collected membership dues from defendant Tomáš K. and one other defendant. In a later statement, she retracted her previous statement and said she had lied because police had allegedly threatened to take her into custody.
Jan B. (age 24), unemployed, is the alleged head of the organization, using the nickname "Warrior"; he has rejected all of the charges against him and claims he has never had anything to do with either the organization or the website - he never established either, never maintained contact with any alleged members, never collected membership dues, never handled orders for merchandising, and does not know most of his co-defendants. However, in the corridors of the courthouse, he spoke with the defendants from Aš for quite some time in a remarkably friendly way.
During their two-year investigation, detectives from the Organized Crime Detection Unit managed to learn from the Canadian administrator of the website of the Czech section of the Blood & Honour organization that Jan B. was running it. They also learned that he had closed down the website at their request, which several other defendants also confirmed to police.
Tomáš K. (age 24), another warehouse worker from Aš, pleaded guilty in court to participating in the arson attack there under the weight of the evidence, but rejected the charge that he had participated in establishing a branch of the neo-Nazi organization in Aš, denied being a member of the organization, and denied having organized concerts of music groups from the White Power movement. Most of the defendants took advantage of their right not to testify, although some responded to questions from the judge about their personal circumstances, while others just read their own brief statements without permitting anyone else to ask them questions.
Boleslav M. (age 24), who is not employed today, is charged with having become the head of the Aš branch of the organization and with having spray-painted, together with Tomáš K., neo-Nazi inscriptions at various places in the town of Mariánské Lázně, including an Orthdox church. When speaking with police, Boleslav M. denied all the charges, claiming that his meetings with the other defendants were just times when he and his friends had gone for a beer together; in court he testified that the t-shirts discovered during the search of his home were from his youth.
Petr M. (age 33) of Trutnov told police that he knew none of his co-defendants personally. The indictment charges him with promoting neo-Nazism, defaming minority members, and publicly inciting hatred by having run a website promoting Blood & Honour, the access codes to which he then gave to the main defendant Jan B.
At the pre-trial hearing, Petr M. said that while seven years ago he had established a website called "terrormachine", downloading articles from foreign websites for posting there, it had not been active from 2008 to 2010 because he had been in prison. He was given an aggregate sentence of 2.5 years in prison for participating in two violent attacks against Romani people.
Petr M. claimed that he took no interest in the website after his release from prison. After he gave its access codes to a person whom he claims was unknown to him, he was then unable to shut it down.
"About us without us" - at our request
According to the indictment, Bronislav Š. of Hodonín is charged with having organized the production of promotional items featuring symbols of these neo-Nazi organizations and with having contributed to the creation of a new album by the music group Agrese95, which was supposed to celebrate the National Resistance organization (which has been banned in the Czech Republic), Blood & Honour, and SS members who fought at Stalingrad during WWII. Moreover, he is alleged to have written the lyrics for the pieces on the album and to have worked as a guitarist and singer in the band.
Bronislav Š. excused his absence to the court by claiming to have suddenly fallen ill. His testimony is scheduled for the beginning of April, when the main hearing will continue.
At the request of the defendants, the trial will continue in their absence. None of the parties involved objected to this request, so future hearings will be attended only by the judges, the prosecution, the defense, and the personal attorneys of the individual defendants and victims.
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