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Czech court rules on arson attack against Romani family in Býchory

Prague, 27.9.2012 6:14, (ROMEA)
ilustrační foto

The four young men responsible for last year's attack on a Romani family from Býchory (Kolín district) have received various sentences from the Regional Court in Prague. The harshest punishment was handed down against Vojtěch Vyhnánek, who threw a lit torch through the window of the family's home. The court sentenced him to four years without parole for racially motivated attempted grievous bodily harm. At the time of the attack there were five adults and four children in the home.

Vyhnánek's accomplice Jan Říha received a 20-month prison sentence, suspended for three years, for the crime of violence against a group and individuals. Jiří Drahovzal and Michal Řehák were sentenced to one year in prison each, suspended for two years.

"In my opinion, Vyhnánek's punishment is proportionate, but the others are low. The paroles surprise me, because they have been granted to the perpetrators who instigated the whole thing and then blamed it all on Vyhnánek. They excused their actions by saying it was just a prank. It could have cost us our lives," Milan Demeter, the father of the victimized family, told news server Romea.cz.

The family moved away from Býchory after the attack out of fear that it would be repeated. For the same reason they also requested the defendants not be in the courtroom when family members testified.

The prosecution charged that the four young men, aged between 22 and 26, agreed on the night of 11 July 2011 to "go scare the Gypsies" because the occupants of that particular home "had harmed the community because of their ethnic origin and should leave it." On the way to commit the attack, the perpetrators sang racist songs by the band Orlík (singer Daniel Landa's first band) and shouting "Fuck off" and "Bohemia for the Czechs". Vyhnánek then threw a flaming torch through the window. Fortunately, the fire was quickly put out by a friend of the family who was visiting and watching television in the room where it landed.

Vyhnánek denied to the court that his intention had been to harm the family, who lived across the street from him. In the courtroom he claimed that Romani people do not bother him, even though he had previously told police officers that he hates Romani people. However, he did admit that he and his fellow perpetrators did actually discuss "scaring the Gypsies" that July evening. "I also shouted something," he said, admitting his involvement in disturbing the peace. However, he denied having loudly sung any songs by Orlík. "I just shouted 'Fuck off'," he said, adding that he was so drunk at the time that he didn't even realize what was being sung. He did not view his throwing of the torch as wrongly motivated either. "I just negligently threw it away. The rain had put it out," he explained.

Vyhnánek apologized for his actions to the court and the other defendants expressed regret. They all excused their behavior by saying they had been drunk. They all rejected the prosecution's characterization of the attack as racist and of themselves as right-wing extremists. However, they had all posted racist invective on Facebook and assisted in organizing at least one concert of racist music. Judge Naděžda Bittnerová commented on that fact when handing down her verdict: Their concert organizing and the slogans they shouted made it clear what they were flirting with.

Vyhnánek has written the following on his Facebook profile, among other things: "Recipe for gypsy goulash: We hit a medium-sized Romani man on the head with a stick, punch him a few times, kick him in the kidneys, strangle him while constantly shouting 'Sieg Heil' and serve with pitchforks."

Accomplice Jiří Drahovzal then added this comment to that post: "You are what you eat, so I wouldn't eat that... Signed, a Golden Vietnamese :-)." Drahovzal also posted other comments about Romani people elsewhere on Facebook, such as: "Hate is really destructive I guess I'm a racist : )."

Another of Drahovzal's comments: "… It would be good if the scaffolding were to collapse on at least 10 of our inadaptable citizens! I would have the pleasure of taking them all for x-rays, but only if they all were dead. That's what I dream of doing, just on a larger scale..."

Judge Bittnerová said during sentencing that "The defendants left a restaurant shouting racist slogans and threats of violence. Whoever was in that group, whether he was holding the torch or not, is an accomplice." According to state prosecutor Zbyněk Vondra, the four assailants wanted make a show of force against Romani people and the racial motivation for their crimes was obvious.

The well-known Czech footballer Lukáš Hartig, who started his career in the town of Býchory, has said he does not believe the defendants were promoting neo-Nazism. He made his comments during a report on the case broadcast by TV Nova, adding that he considered everything to do with the case to be exaggerated. "Those are super guys," he said, even going so far as to say he did not believe the findings of the police investigation that a flaming torch had been thrown into the home. "My information is that it was piece of wood or something like that and that it wasn't even on fire," he told the country's most-watched television station.

Hartig has been linked to the ultra-right several times. He has been photographed with members of the neo-Nazi Sons of Bohemia group wearing clothing that is typical of the followers of that right-wing extremist movement.

The judge compared the case from Býchory with the arson attack committed in Vítkov several years ago during which a two-year-old girl was severely burned. "There is a significant difference between the two cases. In the Vítkov case the assailants essentially used different equipment and approached their victims quietly and from various directions," Bittnerová said.

The victimized family sought compensation in the amount of CZK 200 000 to cover the costs of their subsequent move away from Býchory. The judge, however, did not grant their request and instructed them to file a civil suit for the damages. "We are not satisfied that the victims' right to compensation has been deferred. The court had no reason to do that. Non-pecuniary damages include those that objectively arise through the commission of a criminal act. This is a serious violation of the victims' rights. Given the repercussions of this crime, the victims have received only minimal satisfaction," Klára Kalibová, who represented the victimized family, told news server Romea.cz.

Vyhnánek could have been sentenced to as long as 12 years in prison for attempted grievous bodily harm, while the others could have received as much as three years in prison for violence against a group and individuals. The verdict has not yet taken effect. Defendants Říha and Vyhnánek appealed on the spot, while the other defendants are considering whether to appeal. One plaintiff has also already appealed, while another is considering it.

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Radka Steklá, fk, ras, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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