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Court reopens Roma case
Radio Prague, August 20th - A new investigation is underway into the death of Milan Lacko, the Roma man who was the victim of a brutal attack by skinheads in May 1998. New evidence which may shed more light on the case was presented in Prague at a joint press conference of the Roma Association of Moravia and the European Roma Rights Center. Radio Prague's Jana Kotalik was there:
On the evening of May 17th 1998 Milan Lacko died after being attacked by skinheads and then left on the road where he was allegedly run over first by a truck and then by a car. The first official findings state that the cause of death was the impact of the truck. The verdict, given by the district court in the city of Karvina in Northern Moravia where the incident occurred, was a suspended sentence of 15 to 22 months to the four skinheads who attacked Lacko. The accused men are freely walking the streets today.

According to the Lacko family lawyer, Jakub Polak, the facts don't add up. The question about what exactly caused Milan Lacko's death remains unanswered. New evidence was presented to journalists last Thursday which has cast doubt on the results of the initial investigation. In the opinion of two leading medical experts of the Institute for court-appointed medicine in Prague, who studied the autopsy report, there was no evidence that Lacko's injuries were caused by two car accidents, as was concluded by the original investigators. In other words, they did not find any signs of injuries due to the impact of a truck. I asked Markus Pape, consultant at the European Roma Rights Centre in Prague what this meant for the case:

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The case is now being reinvestigated by the authorities. After an appeal from the legal representative of the widow of Milan Lacko, the Ostrava regional Court of Appeal overturned the initial light verdict earlier this month. The Ostrava court found the original investigation filled with irregularities and recommended that the case be tried in another district court, to assure objectivity. But today, the case is being reinvestigated by the same state attorneys that were not able to handle the case satisfactorily a year ago. This is protested by the Lacko family lawyer, and Roma activists, who remain sceptical about the future ruling. Jakub Polak told reporters that he fears that the authorities are incapable of handling this case:

'The state is not able to guarantee safety to members of a minority, more specifically the Roma. It does not want to. State bodies outright support the individuals that commit race-related crimes and are not capable of guaranteeing all its citizens basic human rights.

This is not the first time that justice is so slow in coming. This case recalls another racially-motivated crime, the 1993 murder of Roma Tibor Danihel which took five years and interventions from the Minister of Justice and the Supreme Court before a satisfactory verdict was reached. If history repeats itself, and the death of Lacko is not satisfactorily resolved within a reasonable time, then this will have serious consequences on inter-ethnic relations in the country and will also damage the Czech Republic's international reputation. Petr Horvath, chairman of the Roma Association of Moravia concluded the following:

"I think that overall the impact of the whole case on the Roma community is one of the links in the chain that explains why the Roma are emigrating. Every unresolved or badly resolved racially-motivated case is one of the reasons why Roma citizens don't trust the state and simply don't have faith in the justice system of this country."

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