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Hungary: Murders of Roma people were planned

Budapest, 25.3.2011 21:54, (ROMEA)
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The perpetrators of attacks on the homes of Roma people in Hungary in recent years, during which at least six people perished, were planned "with military precision." At the first hearing today in a Budapest court, dozens of prominent persons were present in the courtroom, including politicians, representatives of the Roma community, and relatives of the victims. Three persons are charged with the murders, while a fourth is charged with committing lesser, related crimes.

The prosecutor took several hours to read out the charges today. The trial will continue next week and should last until 13 July. The verdict will evidently be handed down sometime next year.

Six people perished in the series of attacks committed against Roma in their homes in 2008 and 2009. Four alleged members of a gang of gunmen were arrested in August 2009 at a pub in Debrecín. The group, which is allegedly ideologically close to the neo-Nazi scene, is charged by the prosecution with having formed in 2007, when its four future members - Árpád K., István K., Zsolt P. a István Cs. - agreed the state was doing nothing to suppress "Gypsy crime" and that they therefore should take the issue into their own hands.

The men - a bouncer, a former KFOR soldier, a pastry cook, and a sound engineer - are alleged to have bonded over their fanatical hatred of Roma. Their situation is analogous to that of the Vítkov arsonists in the Czech Republic.

From July 2008 until August 2009, the men allegedly committed almost 20 attacks in nine small towns and villages in central and eastern Hungary during which six people perished, including a five-year-old child, and in which five other people, including yet another child, suffered serious injuries. They are charged with shooting a total of 78 bullets at Roma people and their homes, throwing Molotov cocktails into at least seven homes, and menacing a total of 55 people.

One of those arrested has refused to testify. The other three have testified, but deny their guilt. "They now face sentences between 15 years and life in prison, depending on their degree of culpability. The case greatly exacerbated the atmosphere at the time, Roma people even prepared to emigrate en masse," said Attila Petöfi of the Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation.

"This sick killing has ended. For two years, the Roma in Hungary could not live in peace, for two years they could not sleep at night because they were afraid for their children's lives," said Orbán Kolompár, chair of a Roma Minority Self-Government body.

The trial should last 34 days. More than 160 witnesses will testify. After the first round of hearings, the court will evaluate the evidence and then confer on sentencing.

Incitement to racial hatred is a crime under Hungarian law. The number of persons so charged and the number of verdicts handed down in cases of racially motivated attacks, however, are lower than the number of reports of such attacks made to non-governmental organizations. The Hungarian Police say that in 2008 there were 12 racially motivated attacks on the Roma community, followed by six attacks in 2009. Non-government organizations recorded 18 racially motivated attacks in 2008 and 25 in 2009.

This discrepancy occurs because the victims of hate crimes do not always report them to the authorities out of fear. Police and prosecutors also decide not to evaluate some crimes as racially motivated. Many victims interviewed by representatives of Amnesty International have been traumatized by the attacks and do not know where to seek support. "The Hungarian authorities are obligated to prevent discrimination and to ensure justice for the victims of hate crime," Czech Television reports Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International as saying.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Czech Television, SITA, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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