The regional court in Ostrava has come under siege by newsmen as the court prepares to pass a verdict on one of the worst cases of racist violence in the country’s history. In April of last year unidentified arsonists turned off the water supply to a Roma house in the town of Vítkov and then set fire to it with three well-aimed Molotov cocktails. The blaze left a two-year-old girl fighting for her life with third-degree burns on 80 percent of her body and two other family members seriously injured.
The brutal attack met with widespread condemnation and received international media publicity as shocking evidence of the racial intolerance Roma face in the Czech Republic. It jolted the authorities into action and the police caught and charged the suspects within a relatively short time.
The trial has been one of the most closely watched court cases in years and the jury heard plenty of evidence linking the four youths to neo-Nazi activities. The ring-leader brazenly attended the hearings wearing a T-shirt with neo-Nazi symbols and refused to say a single word. Two of his accomplices tried to defend their actions by saying they had believed the house to be uninhabited, a line of defense dismissed by the state attorney on the grounds that they had first turned off the water supply to ensure that the house’s inhabitants could not put out the fire.
In her closing address on Tuesday the state attorney demanded extraordinary punishment –sentences of up to 25 years for three of the neo Nazis involved – and a sentence of up to 15 years for the fourth who alone admitted to the crime and expressed regret over his actions.
A verdict is expected within a fortnight – and there is general anticipation of exemplary sentences that would serve as a deterrent against further racist violence. Observers however are warning against excessive optimism, pointing out that there are dozens if not hundreds of cases of racial discrimination and violence that do not get enough attention and do not end up in court and until that happens – the situation will not improve.