President expresses surprise at long terms for neo-Nazis convicted over petrol-bomb attack on Romany home

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

Four Czech neo-Nazis on Wednesday received prison terms of 22 and 20 years for attempted murder after a shocking petrol bomb attack on a Romany family’s home last year. The unusual length of the sentences has provoked some debate in the Czech Republic; the country’s president has expressed surprise that the punishment is so severe, while others have welcomed the verdict.

Photo: CTK
Handing down the verdict in an Ostrava court on Wednesday, judge Miloslav Studnička said the defendants had set out to kill in what was a premeditated attack, and compared their actions to what the Nazis did on Kristallnacht in 1938.

The four young men petrol-bombed the Romany family’s home in Vítkov, north Moravia on the night of April 18 last year, intending to honour the anniversary of the birth of Hitler, two days later. The house was gutted and the family’s youngest daughter was so badly burned doctors said it was a miracle she survived.

All four neo-Nazis were given what are known under Czech law as extraordinary sentences. Three of them received terms of 22 years behind bars, while the fourth got a 20-year term. They were also fined a total of CZK 17 million or nearly USD 1 million.

Soon after the rulings were read out a debate began as to whether such long sentences were appropriate – a debate greatly stoked by the participation of the Czech president, Václav Klaus.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Mr Klaus said the sentences had seemed to him “unexpectedly high”. He said he wondered if that was really the best way to prevent similar things happening again in the future.

The Czech prime minister, by contrast, was satisfied with the outcome of the closely watched trial. Petr Nečas said he regarded the punishment as completely appropriate, and the sentence “the minimum”.

Mr Nečas’s advisor Roman Joch went some way further, saying such crimes ought to carry the death penalty.

Such widely differing views were reflected on Czech internet forums, with some hailing the tough jail terms and others saying they were too severe.

Miroslav Mareš of Masaryk University in Brno is one of the Czech Republic’s leading experts on far-right extremism. He gave his reaction to the verdict.

“It is something uncommon in the previous practice of Czech justice. On the other hand, it is according to Czech law, which has the possibility to give such harsh sentences to perpetrators of racial crimes or crimes against children.”

The political scientist said the outcome of the trial could deter some and galvanise others on the far-right in the Czech Republic.

“For part of the neo-Nazi scene it is a threat for the future. On the other hand, we can read on some neo-Nazi discussions on the internet that for some it’s only a challenge for a harder and more conspiratorial fight against their racial enemies.”

In the meantime, the issue of whether jail terms of 22 and 20 years are adequate is not likely to disappear. All four of those convicted on Wednesday have appealed.