Skinheads verdict signals change of attitude to racially motivated attacks

The Czech Republic has received frequent international criticism in recent years for its record on fighting racially motivated crime. The main complaint is that in high profile cases against right wing extremists accused of attacking the Roma minority, these crimes have not been described as racially motivated. But in a case in the South Bohemian city of Ceske Budejovice a group of skinheads has received prison sentences for attacking a group of Romanies in 1999, and the judge described their crime as clearly racially motivated. Although unsatisfied with the length of the sentences, Roma minority groups are pleased with the verdict, as they say it sends a clear signal to extremist groups that their crimes will no longer go unpunished. Nick Carey has this report.

The 23 right-wing extremists on trial in Ceske Budejovice were charged with an attack on a group of Romanies in a restaurant in the summer of 1999. They allegedly hurling bottles and stones, injuring six of the Romanies in the process. According to eye witness accounts, the skinheads also screamed abuse, shouting slogans such as "Gypsies to the gas chambers", and "Black bastards".

The case against the 23 youths has dragged on for a long time in Ceske Budejovice, but on Wednesday the court passed down a guilty verdict against twenty one of them for racially motivated assault. Six of the youths have received prison sentences of between eighteen and thirty months. The rest have received conditional sentences ranging from ten months to two years.

Although minority rights groups say that the sentences should have been higher, they have welcomed the verdicts. According to Kumar Vishwanatan, who works with Romanies in the Moravian city of Ostrava, the fact that the attack was qualified as racially motivated is good news for the judicial system:

"My first gut reaction is that I am happy that the Czech judicial system is naming things, labelling things properly. I fit is a skinhead attack, a right wing extremist attack, it is ready to qualify it like that. Because I remember there was a period when such attacks were considered to be klukovina, which means silly little things that young people do. So I am happy that attacks are being qualified as racist."

Kumar Vishwanatan also believes that this will send a positive signal to the Roma minority that racially motivated crimes against them will be punished and a warning to right wing extremists that cannot get away with attacks on the Roma:

"On one hand, I think the Roma and foreigners in this country will feel more safe here. On the other hand, I think right-wing extremism, like in other parts of Central Europe, I mean, Germany is very clear about its stance on right-wing extremism. I think right-wing extremism in the Czech Republic is also getting a clear signal that this not allowed and the legal system is not lenient towards them anymore."