Skinhead charged with racially motivated murder

Attacks on the Roma minority in the Czech Republic in recent years have frequently been the focus of fierce criticism by human rights organisations, as has the perceived reluctance of Czech courts to define attacks committed by extreme right-wing skinheads as racially motivated. But after a fresh attack at the weekend, in which a Roma man was stabbed to death, prosecutors have moved fast to charge the skinhead suspected of committing the crime with racially motivated murder. Nick Carey reports.

The attack took place in a night club in the small Northern Moravian town of Svitavy on Friday night. A group of Roma were drinking in the club, while a lone 22-year-old skinhead sat at the table next to them. He allegedly began hurling racial abuse at the group. The group ignored him and carried on drinking. What happened next has been described as sudden and brutal. Witnesses say the skinhead approached the table, pulled out a knife and stabbed one of the group three times. The 30-year-old victim was rushed to hospital, where he died five hours later.

Prosecutors in Svitavy charged the skinhead, whose name has not been released, with racially motivated murder early on Saturday morning. This has been welcomed by human rights organisations, as in many similar cases the police have waited weeks before pressing charges. Tomas Pojar is the head of People in Need in the Czech Republic:

"Well, I think it's a good sign that he has been charged immediately with racially motivated murder, because what usually happens in the Czech Republic is that the courts don't recognise this or hesitate over whether it should be a charge of racially motivated murder or regular murder. This is a good sign and I hope that it's going to be fast, that the courts will work well and that this person will be sentenced for racially motivated murder, and not just regular murder."

What happens at the trial awaits to be seen, but if the skinhead, who has a previous conviction for a racially motivated attack, is found guilty of racially motivated murder, then human rights activists believe this will send a positive signal both at home and abroad:

"If the verdict is very clear that a skinhead has murdered a Roma and that the motive was clearly racial then in spit of everything it's going to a good signal, that finally Czech justice is dealing with these cases, that it's saying we have a problem here, racially motivated crimes are committed and that we are serious in dealing with the situation."

Several Czech papers have pointed out that this latest attack comes just days after British customs officials began working at Prague's Ruzyne airport to prevent Roma from seeking asylum in Britain. The majority of the Roma who have sought asylum in the UK in the past few years have been described by the British Foreign Office as economic migrants. But according to Tomas Pojar, this attack proves that there are Roma who face a real threat, and that it is dangerous to turn all of them away:

"The link is not direct but shows that there is a serious problem and that some of the Roma here in the Czech Republic can feel threatened, that it is reasonable for some of them to seek asylum and we should understand that. Therefore to turn everyone away immediately from the asylum procedure is not a good sign and with each new crime, the situation is going to be further complicated."