Trial of the Czech cell of Blood & Honour enters its final phase
A nine-member group of alleged neo-Nazis from various parts of the Czech Republic has been on trial before the Regional Court in Plzeň since February. From 12-13 October closing arguments in the case were made by the prosecution, the attorney for the victims, and two of the defendants gave final statements.
The court has decided to take two months to elaborate its first-instance verdict, which may take hours to hand down, according to Judge Martin Kantor, and will be read on 14 December 2015. Let's review what the trial has revealed so far:
According to the indictment, a person named Jan B. (who was 22 at the time of his arrest) is supposed to have been the main representative of the Czech branch of the neo-Nazi organizations Blood & Honour and Combat 18, as well as a founding member of the Prague branch of these organizations called Division Bohemia. Jan B. allegedly planned attacks on specific persons and, through the website of his organizations, called for violent attacks on the headquarters of political parties and on representatives of the Government or police.
At least two of those attacks were carried out, fortunately without causing physical harm. Another two defendants, Tomáš K. (age 22) and Michal P. of Aš (age 32, both employed as warehouse workers) were said to have participated in an arson attack in the West Bohemian town of Aš at the end of February 2012.
Tomáš K. and the unemployed Boleslav M. (age 22) of Aš are also said to have spray-painted buildings with Nazi slogans and symbols one night in the town of Mariánské Lázně. The entire group, according to the police and the Regional State Prosecutor, are said to have contributed to establishing and supporting the neo-Nazi organization Blood & Honour Division Bohemia and its daughter organization, the militant, Combat 18.
Specifically, the following persons were said to be involved: Petra L., the girlfriend of Jan B. (28 years old, living in Prague, originally from Aš); Bronislav Š. (37, a veteran of the "old resistance", a guitarist and singer with the music group Agrese 95, from Hodonín); Čeněk N. (22 years old, the right-hand man to the group leader, from Prague); and Petr H. (28, a small business owner, owner of an advertising agency and the alleged producer of items with neo-Nazi propaganda on them, from Sokolov).
These people were also charged with establishing, promoting and supporting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. The same charges are faced by Petr M. of Trutnov (age 31, a recidivist of many years convicted of attacking and brawling with the neo-Nazi scene's antagonists and Romani people), who is also being prosecuted for the offense of defamation of a nation, race, ethnic and other group of persons and for the offense of inciting hatred of a group or for the rights and freedoms of its members to be taken away.
Arsonists made sure there would be no escape
Regional Prosecutor Jakub Kubias claims that the most serious crime was committed by two men from Aš, who now face between 15 and 20 years in prison or even extraordinary sentencing for 18 counts of racially motivated attempted murder. Michal P. and Tomáš K. allegedly noticed the building in their home town in the northwestern corner of the country because it was predominantly occupied by Romani families.
In the early morning hours of 26 February 2012 they masked their faces with scarves, threw Molotov cocktails through two ground-floor windows, then poured gasoline into the corridor of the only functioning door to the building and set it on fire, making any possible escape from the residential hotel much more difficult for its tenants. Then they calmly left the scene.
"They did their best to perform the attack so as to eliminate to the greatest possible extent any option for the victims to be rescued. They also poured gasoline around the entrance door to make it impossible for the occupants to get out of the residential hotel once it was ablaze," the state prosecutor's indictment reads.
Fortunately, neither Molotov cocktail made it into the room where 10 adults and eight children were sleeping. Both were stopped by the internal pane of the double-glazed windows and the residents managed to put out the blaze of burning gasoline in the space between the panes.
"Given the significant amount of flammable material in the interior spaces, had there been no obstacles, any blaze would have spread quite rapidly. Another danger would have been posed by the toxic fumes. If the main entrance had gone up in flames too, the possibility of escape would have been very complicated," an expert witness on fire safety submitted to the court.
The leader of the group then criticized those who carried out the arson attack, according to the indictment, sending them a text message saying that it had not been sufficiently attributable to the group and that more damage should have been called. The men changed excused their behavior to detectives by claiming they were drunk and described the entire incident as one in which they unfortunately got carried away.
At the beginning of 2012, Jan B. and Čeněk N. are alleged to have set a cabin named "Gizela" on fire in the forest in the Prague quarter of Krč, which the self-appointed leader of the neo-Nazi group said was a den of leftists. According to the indictment, Jan B. sprayed its walls with gasoline from a canister in his backpack.
He then gave his friend a box of matches and ordered him to set it on fire. Flames could then be seen coming from the cabin, according to his co-defendant, Čeněk N. of Prague, who testified that he fled the scene of the crime even before the blaze began.
Direct attacks on "enemies" planned
Members of the group, moreover, were allegedly actively planning so-called "direct actions" against their opponents and representatives of the Czech Republic's democratic establishment and state, and were calling for participation in them on the organization's website, which was located on a server abroad. They were also sharing information there about the organization' activities, its ideological battle against the "system" and against the democratic establishment of the state and its representatives "whether they be representatives of the Government or the Police of the Czech Republic".
According to Pavel Hanták, spokesperson for the Organized Crime Detection Unit (ÚOOZ), those plans had not yet acquired concrete form. "If, however, they had decided to implement them and succeeded, the result would apparently have been to paralyze the activity of the state," he said.
The allegedly highly-organized group, for example, drew attention on its website to the opportunity to easily assault the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia on Politických vězňů Street in Prague in a drive-by attack. One post on the website expressed approval for the arson attack on a home occupied by a Romani family in Vítkov in April 2009 that resulted in third-degree burns for their two-year-old daughter Natálka, the painful, permanent consequences of which will last for the rest of her life.
By linking to other freely accessible websites, the group has continued to actively support racist hatred and various forms of violence with a tendency toward Holocaust denial and terrorism, inciting violence against the so-called "inferior races", certain groups of people and individuals. Its members invited and sought new members for the organization and maintained a lively correspondence with them, according to police.
The prosecutor dryly stated that his claims in the indictment had been confirmed by the trial. For seven of the defendants he sought three-year sentences suspended for five years.
For the two alleged arsonists, on the other hand, he proposed a punishment of about half what the law allows, which would mean 17-18 years in maximum security prison for 18 counts of racially-motivated attempted murder, as the perpetrators must, in his view, have presumed that children would be in the targeted building. In conclusion he pointed to the case of the arson attack in Vítkov, the perpetrators of which were sentenced to 20 and 22 years in prison.
The prosecutor said that whether the attempt to commit murder succeeded or not was irrelevant. As for the victims, he proposed that the court refer their claims for compensation to a civil lawsuit.
The attorney for four of the children from the residential hotel that was attacked explained in his closing arguments that their main interest is not financial gain, but preventing such attacks in general. He emphasized that the main harm caused to the victims in this case was their loss of their home and their loss of continuous contact with their parents.
Shortly after the unsuccessful arson attack, the local social services department ordered the children be placed in a children's home, which has caused unbearable suffering to one mother of six children who is having a difficult time with this situation. It was not proven that this result was what the assailants had intended.
After committing the crime, however, they took no action to help the children they had harmed return to their parents. According to defendant Tomáš K., the aim of the attack was to prevent other Romani people from moving into the residential hotel.
"That aim was achieved," the attorney for the victims said. He also said the testimony of Tomáš K. about his "behavior after the crime" was significant.
According to the defendant's testimony, he and his accomplice walked up a hill to get a view of the town so they could look at the results of their action. The attorney recommended the defendants apologize personally to the children they had harmed, which they have not yet done.
On behalf of his clients, the attorney thanked the prosecutor and the ÚOOZ detectives for their efforts to bring the defendants before the Regional Court. In the past, mainly during the 1990s, similar cases have ended up just as charges of property destruction before the district court or even before misdemeanor commissions.
Thanks to new case law about arson attacks, the criminal justice authorities have changed their views and acknowledged the danger to society of such crimes, the victims' representative said. The defense attorneys were the next to address the court.
The Prague-based attorney for defendant Jan B., Marek Nespála, said that it had not been proven to the court who had administered the neo-Nazi website and who had been communicating with whom electronically, because more than one individual always had access to that channel of communication. In his view, the facts of the case did not arise to a felony and he therefore called for the absolute acquittal of his client on all counts of the indictment.
The attorney for defendant Petr H. of Sokolov said his client did not know the other defendants and was merely responding to orders placed by customers unknown to him which he received by e-mail. As the owner of an advertising company, he supplied smaller quantities of the clothing ordered and could not anticipate in advance whether the end user would be wearing the clothing at home or in public.
Petr H. claimed to not support the promotion of neo-Nazism, although from the time of his youth, when he had sympathized with Nazism, he knew what the various slogans on the t-shirts he was producing meant. By arguing that "one cannot convince someone who already believes", the attorney expalined that whoever wanted to buy such a t-shirt already has certain convictions and that such a purchase neither changes nor exacerbates them.
The ambitious young attorney Alexandr Nett emphasized with respect to his client, Tomáš K., that after his arrest by police he had "behaved like a man" because he had fully cooperated even at risk to himself and admitted to everything connected to the night-time spray-painting and the arson attack. Nett said the arson attempt had just been of a "demonstrative character" and that his client merely "intended to make a threat".
The idea allegedly arose spontaneously and under the influence of alcohol. Nett insisted that his client was not a member of any movement and had not been promoting Nazism or producing propaganda items and that he had never sold any such items to anyone.
The defendant was said to have just met with his friends who had similar opinions in order to gossip. In conclusion, Nett compared the nighttime action of his client in Aš to the arson attack in Vítkov, which was, in his view, carefully prepared months in advance (but where the number of occupants of the home attacked were fewer).
He pointed to the case law of the Supreme Court, according to which the organized nature of the Vítkov crime was at a much higher level than the incident in Aš. The next attorney, Helena Dvorná, briefly stated that defendant Petra L. "never had any interest in any schools of thought whatsoever" and therefore could not have promoted Nazism.
She sought her absolute acquittal, and the same was requested by the legal representative of defendant Čeněk N. After Čeněk N. was arrested, he allegedly told police everything he knew even though it could have harmed him.
His attorney added that the law defines a "movement" as a society engaged in active deeds that displays certain signs of a hierarchy, delegation of task,s and definition of roles. The attorney argued that no such thing in this case has been proven.
Defense says building did not burn - a fire just "flared up" there
The attorney for Bohuslav M. of Aš asked for a suspended sentence for his client's nighttime spray-painting. Since then he has apparently established a family and serving a prison sentence could disrupt it.
Bohuslav M. claimed to have not taken his membership in the group seriously - he did not pay regular membership dues and still owed money to the supplier for the t-shirts he bought. According to the legal representative for the other alleged arsonist, Michal P. of Aš, his client must not be punished for having certain opinions or for having books about Nazism in his home.
He also argued that the residential hotel did not burn, but that what happened was just the gasoline catching fire. It was not the defendant's fault that the building had no other functional exits.
Michal P.'s attorney proposed a suspended sentence for his client. He was followed by the famous attorney Jaroslav Ortman of Prague, who represented former hardcore neo-Nazi Petr M. and came to the trial for the first time to present his closing arguments.
Petr M. said he had once established a website called "Blood & Honour", but then he had gone to prison for a longer time because of a different felony. That meant he had been unable to administer the website, and someone other than him was the person who had posted articles to it.
The attorney for the defendant Bohuslav Š. of Hodonín, a neo-Nazi from the "old" section of "National Resistance", emphasized that his client suffers from severe schizophrenia and has been living on disability income of just CZK 6 000 monthly. If he actually did sell a few t-shirts, therefore, he did it to make money and not to promote anything.
Nowhere in the intercepted communications was it ever stated what specifically was supposed to be written on the t-shirt Bohuslav Š. received from Jan B. His attorney argued that he should therefore be acquitted.
The attorney also claimed that Bohuslav Š. suffers so severely from schizophrenia that he does not understand what a criminal proceedings is, so any prison sentence would have to be postponed on those grounds. From the entire course of the trial, what seems to have been demonstrated is that this group did not cause more damage because it was discovered in time (or rather, carefully followed for a very long time before it could do so), and because it proceeded in a rather amateurish way.
The ÚOOZ did not intervene against the group until two of its members had undertaken an arson attack on an occupied building in a markedly unprofessional way. Because that attack could have turned out much more tragically, with a large number of deaths or serious injuries, the prosecutor is insisting that it was a homicidal attack and that the punishment must correspond to that.
Blood & Honour Division Bohemia
The Police of the Czech Republic say this is the Czech section of the most radical contemporary militant neo-Nazi organization Blood & Honour (B&H), which was founded in the 1980s in Great Britain by Ian Stuart Donaldsom, the leader of the neo-Nazi skinhead band Skrewdriver. It was originally established as an extensive, high-performance distribution network for neo-Nazi and racist materials among youth (linked to the German youth organization Hitlerjugend), mainly in the field of music.
B&H called for violent action in many of its materials. The name of the organization is sometimes referred to by the code "28".
Combat 18 (C18) is the militant terrorist wing of B&H. It was created at the close of 1991 and beginning of 1992 in Great Britain and then gradually expanded to several other countries, including the Czech Republic.
Members of this organization have carried out many acts of terrorism and violence. In its current conception, C18 espouses the concept of a leaderless resistance and serves as a symbol of ultra-right terrorism.
David Vaculík, the leader of the arson group that carried out the Vítkov attack, had the C18 tattooed on his chest. The group of Hungarian neo-Nazis who perpetrated several fatal arson attacks on Romani dwellings all over Hungary several years ago also were members of C18; in 2013, three of its members were sentenced to life in prison by a first-instance court in Budapest.
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