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Light sentences for racist attack come under fire
08-01-2004  Daniela Lazarova

The verdict of a regional court which gave three youths found guilty of a brutal racist attack against a Romany couple a three year suspended sentence has evoked outrage among the Romany minority. They have petitioned the government and the justice ministry, demanding a fair and just trial. Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, who also professed to have been shocked by the benevolent sentences, has asked the justice minister for an explanation. We asked the government's human rights commissioner Jan Jarab how he perceived the verdict of the Jesenik court:

Jan Jarab "I think it is correct to call it an outrage but it wouldn't be correct to call it a surprise because in the last fourteen years we have seen a number of such verdicts and it seems that it is the rule, not the exception, that people who commit such attacks -very brutal violent attacks against the Roma - and the offenders are themselves mostly members of Neo-Nazi organizations - they are treated very lightly as if they were just young hooligans who had just drank a little bit more than usual, with a benevolence that is missing when the courts are dealing with property crimes. It seems that a crime against a person, particularly if that person happens to be a member of a minority is treated far more lightly and that is wrong."

Why do you think that is so?

"I think this is the perception of the old regime which is still here and is being passed on - to some extent - to new judges - that they are there to maintain order in the face of the real delinquents -meaning the people who commit property crimes. The judges then perceive incidents such as the one we are discussing as incidents between two groups of people -one of which is disorderly i.e. the Roma and another which is perhaps not doing the right thing but isn't typically delinquent."

But this is the verdict of an independent court after all what can you do as the government's human rights commissioner to influence this state of affairs?

"We cannot influence the courts, which are independent, on any particular case. What we would like to do is influence on a broader scale the way in which the judiciary perceives such cases in general because it seems that the independence of the judiciary in such cases is strikingly similar to the independence of the judiciary in the American south a hundred years ago where you also didn't go to jail for lynching a black person because an independent court would never sentence a white person for lynching."

Do you think there is enough support among Czech politicians for this to gradually change?

"No.....I am afraid that it is not perceived in society as such -and therefore by most mainstream politicians -as being a real problem."

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