Court rules anti-Roma attack not racially motivated

The District Court in the town of Trebic has reached a verdict in the case of 12 men who attacked a hamlet near the town of Trebic in South Moravia inhabited mostly by Romani families. But, as Olga Szantova reports, the verdict will be wearily familiar to those following the prosecution of racist crimes in the Czech Republic.

Imagine a warm August night suddenly interrupted by 12 men throwing stones and bricks at a group of houses, breaking lights and windows, hitting one of the inhabitants in the head and wounding several others. They shout insults such as 'Come out, you black bastards', 'We're going to smash your faces in,' 'We're going to set fire to your houses', and 'Gypsies to the gas chambers'.

The attack lasted about an hour, but it took the Trebic court a year and three months to hand out suspended sentences of between four months and two years with three years' probation. The reason for such low sentences? Well, the court heard, the owner of the building had been trying to make them move out for some time. He promised his son and some of his friends a pig and two barrels of beer for scaring the tenants off.

The attack ran out of control somehow, spreading out against all the Roma living in the hamlet. The men attacked people as they tried to run away and hide in the forest. But, the court ruled, it was not a case of racially motivated extortion, just a case of hooliganism, damaging private property and assault. Only the last was considered to be racially motivated. The victims expressed their disappointment over the verdict, but to the general public it did not come as much of a surprise.

Similar verdicts are frequent in the Czech Republic, and human rights activists say these inadequate punishments are not helping to curb racially motivated crime. And no plans to help the integration of minorities can really succeed before that is changed.

In June the cabinet did approve a long-term plan for the integration of the Czech Republic's Roma minority. It is a general strategy for the next twenty years and deals with all the main issues faced by the Roma, and not only the Roma minority. These include: doing away with all existing forms of discrimination and handicaps in education as well as in chances of achieving higher qualifications.

The plan also deals with achieving equality for the Roma, including the creation of a democratic Roma representative body, and with support for the Roma culture and language. And, above all, providing protection against racist attacks, which does not only concern the police, but the treatment of the Roma minority by the Czech court system as well.

Author: Olga Szantová
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