Hungary: Court in Budapest punishes racist murders with three life sentences, fourth perpetrator gets 13 years
Today a Hungarian court handed down three life sentences for anti-Romani attacks during which six Romani people were murdered in 2008 and 2009. Five more people were seriously injured during the incidents and dozens suffered less serious injuries.
A fourth perpetrator, who drove the vehicle for the trio during the last two assaults with which they were charged, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison. The racist violence shocked the entire country at the time and led to charges that the police were not sufficiently protecting the Romani minority.
Grenades, guns, Molotov cocktails
The perpetrators chose Romani dwellings located on the outskirts of towns and villages as their targets, places from which it would be easy to get away once an attack had been launched. According to international organizations, however, the number of homicidal attacks was far greater than those that have been prosecuted and most remain unsolved to this day.
The assailants attacked the Romani dwellings by setting them on fire and then shooting at those who fled the burning buildings. During the nine attacks with which the four men were charged they used grenades, guns, and Molotov cocktails.
The victims included a four-year-old boy. Five more people were also seriously wounded during these anti-Romani pogroms.
Prosecutors said the men shot their guns 78 times, threw 11 Molotov cocktails, and threatened the safety of a total of 55 people. The group of suspects was arrested on 21 August 2009 in Debrecin, and the prosecutor stated in the charges that the perpetrators had prepared their maneuvers „with military precision“.
„Tensions are not lowering“
During one attack, the perpetrators set fire late at night to a house on the outskirts of the town of Tatárszentgyörgy near Budapest. When the occupants fled the building, the perpetrators shot dead 29-year-old Robert Csorba and his four-year-old son.
In an interview for the Reuters wire service yesterday, Mr Csorba’s mother said a chapter was now closing for her, but added that tensions between Romani people and others living in Hungary would not be reduced whatever the outcome of the trial. „It’s the same as four years ago,“ the woman said, speaking from her home, which is right next door to the ruins of her deceased son’s house. „We will never get rid of poverty and racism.“ Mr Csorba’s mother also said weird people continue to this day to wander around her home at night, even peering into her windows.
Indifference and mistakes
The investigation of this series of homicidal attacks in Hungary was accompanied by indifference and numerous mistakes by the police bodies, mistakes very similar to those that occurred during the investigation of arson attacks on Romani families that were committed in the Silesian area of the Czech Republic from 2007 – 2009. It often took a very long time for police to inform the public about the cases at all, and they sometimes obfuscated them by insisting that the probable motive for the murders was that loan sharks were revenging themselves for unpaid loans. For months, police rejected the hypothesis that this was a series of racist assaults by the same perpetrators, even though each individual incident was performed in a way that was very similar to the next one.
When the most brutal attack occurred, an ambulance without a doctor on board arrived at the scene one hour after the crime had been committed, which meant that only one gunshot victim was still alive – and they did not manage to save him either. Local police based their report on the claim that the house had caught fire because of a short in the electrical wiring, even though bullet casings were also found at the scene.
Detectives did not start investigating the case until 10 hours after the crime had been committed. The two police officers responsible were disciplined – of course, only after long-term pressure from the public.
When, after one year of investigating, the police had not found a single useful clue, they gradually began to increase the amount of the reward being promised to citizens for information about the possible perpetrators. The amount of that award eventually reached the unheard-of amount of EUR 380 000.
Such a breathtaking amount of reward money is evidence of the increased pressure being placed on the police by the Hungarian government, pressure caused mainly by the sharp international criticism of the Hungarian authorities for their inability to stop this series of violent murders. Several so-called „profilers“ from the American FBI even flew to the country to assist in compiling profiles of the perpetrators for the purpose of ultimately identifying them.
On 21 August 2009, the Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested four men in the town of Debrecín and charged them with perpetrating the series of organized homicidal attacks. At the end of June 2010 the NBI announced its investigation was complete and proposed the men be charged with multiple counts of misuse of weapons, murder, robbery and vandalism.
Detectives proved the participation of three of the suspects in various attacks with the aid of DNA analysis and weapons testing. The fourth was charged with assisting the others in carrying out some of the attacks.
Prosecutor initially saw no racism
In September 2010 the Regional State Prosecutor in Pest filed charges according to which the three men had committed multiple counts of murder against six persons, including children, as well as multiple counts of attempted murder, while the fourth suspect was charged with aiding and abetting premeditated murders. According to the charges, the crimes were performed „with base motives“, but the charges did not mention a racist motive.
Miklós Kárpáti, the legal representative of the victims of one such attack, commented on that decision as follows: „I understand that it can be complicated to prove racist motivation for felonies when the defendants reject such findings or change their own claims. However, such motivation should not be ruled out during the first phase of investigation.“
The international human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) protested this and demanded that the perpetrators‘ motivation be reassessed. In the end, the prosecutor stated in the charges that the perpetrators were motivated by racial hatred during all of their crimes and that they prepared them „with military precision“. They wanted to terrorize the entire community by perpetrating these attacks.
According to the Hungarian media, some of the defendants were connected to the Hungarian secret service, while others were said to have been active on the neo-Nazi scene in the past. Three of the men were charged with all nine attacks, while the fourth was charged with participating in only some of them.
The following is brief summary of information about the cases from AI:
• Shortly after midnight on 21 July 2008, several shots were fire into a Romani-occupied home in the village of Galgagyörk. Luckily no one was physically injured. During the police investigation, police considered the attack was either performed out of racist motivation or was an incident of violence inside the community. Clashes had occurred in the village between the self-appointed „Hungarian Guard“ and the Romani community several weeks prior to the assault.
• On 8 August 2008 Molotov cocktails were thrown at two Romani-occupied homes on the outskirts of the village of Pirics. The perpetrators subsequently began shooting at the occupants of the homes and one person suffered life-threatening injuries.
• No one was physically injured by the next two attacks. The home of a Romani family was shot at on 5 September 2008 in the town of Nyíradoni, and at the end of that month Molotov cocktails were thrown at five homes in the village of Tarnabod, followed by shooting
• During the night of 3 November 2008 a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the home of a Romani family in the village of Nagycsécs. Two people were shot dead as they attempted to flee the burning building.
• On 15 December 2008 one man suffered serious injuries and his common-law wife suffered light injuries after being shot at in the village of Alsózsolca.
• Róbert Csorba and his four-year-old son Robik were shot dead on 23 February 2009 on the outskirts of the town of Tatárszentgyörgy when trying to flee their home after it was set on fire by Molotov cocktails. The original police investigation considered the case to have been an accident. Autopsies then confirmed the victims died as a result of gunshot wounds.
• A 54-year-old Romani man was shot dead on 22 April 2009 in the village of Tiszalök as he was leaving his home to go work the night shift. The Hungarian Prime Minister called this crime a „disgraceful, evil and reprehensible assassination.“
• The ninth attack of the series took place in the village of Kisléta on 2 August 2009. A widow, M.B., was murdered and her 13-year-old daughter, K.B., was seriously injured. Government officials condemned this attack and the Prime Minister said „this inhuman attack may have targeted Romani people, but the murderers are attacking the entire nation.“
According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), attacks committed in Hungary from 2007 – 2009 still remain unsolved:
• These attacks on Romani families have taken a total of nine lives, two of them children;
• Dozens of people have been injured and 10 of them sustained life-threatening injuries;
• In at least 12 cases Molotov cocktails were used, while hand grenades were used in two;
• Multiple shots were fired in at least 12 cases;
• In at least nine cases Romani people’s property was destroyed.
Amnesty International has demanded the Hungarian Government investigate all of these attacks, expand its prosecution to include the rest of these unsolved crimes, and increase, if necessary, the number of persons charged with them.