Czech Republic: Extremists sentenced to almost 7 years in prison for arson attack
Tomáš Kopecký and Michal Poláček, the men responsible for an arson attack on a residential hotel occupied by Romani people in the Czech town of Aš, will serve six years and nine months in prison. The High Court in Prague sentenced them on 22 June for racially-motivated attempted murder and reckless endangerment.
The incident happened in February 2012 when the arsonists threw Molotov cocktails into two units of the residential hotel. There were 18 people in the building at the time, eight of whom were children.
Nobody was physically injured because the residents put out the blaze. Kopecký and Poláček, according to the court, perpetrated the crime as members of the neo-Nazi, racist organization Blood & Honour Division Bohemia and its militant offshoot, Combat 18 Bohemia.
The perpetrators agreed in advance of committing the crime to do it and came up with the idea for how to carry it off. Kopecký, according to the verdict, got gasoline at a gas station while Poláček found glass bottles on his way to the residential hotel, took some rags to use for wicks and put the two Molotov cocktails together.
The two poured gasoline around the doors to the residential hotel in order to make it more difficult for those inside to flee, then threw the Molotov cocktails into the building. One did not catch fire and therefore did not cause the blaze.
Both men faced up to 20 years in prison or the possibility of extraordinary punishment. The state prosecutor appealed the first-instance verdict and asked that the perpetrators be sent to prison for 15 years.
The appeals court, however, rejected that request and upheld the original sentence. The court justified its milder sentencing by referring to the fact that the men have cooperated with authorities since their arrest, have attempted to compensate the victims, had no prior criminal record, have distanced themselves from neo-Nazism in the aftermath of committing the crime, and have begun gainful employment.
However, the High Court did uphold the conclusion of the lower court that both men knew somebody might die as a result of their actions and that their assertion that they just wanted to scare the victims was not credible. "That conclusion is correct," emphasized presiding judge Pavla Augustinová.
The presiding judge also said that while the attack did not result in fatal consequences, according to expert testimonies the building could have gone up in flames completely. Besides Kopecký and Poláček, another seven people have been indicted for various neo-Nazi activities discovered in the investigation.
Jan Balík has been identified as the founder and leader of the neo-Nazi organizations, but did not participate in the arson attack in question. He will be going to prison for three years and eight months for neo-Nazi, racist activity and for dissemination of such ideology.
According to the court files, he is said to have recruited members into the neo-Nazi groups and to have established and written for their websites. He has also sold CDs, DVDs, sweatshirts, t-shirts and other items thematically related to neo-Nazi activities and groups.
Another four men and one woman left their trials with suspended sentences. According to the court files, they promoted and supported radical groups; contributed to varying degrees to the distribution of Nazi band recordings, clothing and other items; called for violence against Romani people; and were behind the spray-painting of several locations in the town of Mariánské Lázně and the setting on fire of a cabin in Prague.
The rest of those charged have been definitively acquitted of producing items with Nazi and racist motifs and symbols. The Czech courts have prosecuted several racially-motivated arson attacks on buildings occupied by Romani people in the past.
The most infamous is the case from April 2009, when four right-wing extremists threw three Molotov cocktails into a single-family home in the Czech town of Vítkov (Opava district). The courts sentenced the extremists in that case to between 20 and 22 years in prison.
Judge Augustinová said on 22 June that the attack in Aš was motivated to a certain extent by the one undertaken in Vítkov, but had not been as well prepared. "It had simlar features," the judge said.
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