March through Czech town puts Roma community in fear

Far-right groups organized a march through the Roma-populated area in Přerov in the Czech Republic on Saturday. Days before the rally, the organizations were calling through their websites on members and sympathizers to join the march against what they termed “gypsy terrorism”, and referring to “gypsy ethnicity” as “parasitic”. The rally started with around 500 far-right demonstrators who had come from different cities of the Czech Republic. The route of the march was through the Roma neighborhood, where the demonstrators stopped a few times and chanted “Czechs come with us” as well as anti-Roma statements. Some inhabitants of Přerov, who were not organized with the far-right groups, joined the rally as it marched through the streets of the town. Amnesty International delegates, on a research mission to the Czech Republic, observed the events. Amnesty International has worked for years to combat anti-Roma discrimination and has documented cases of violent attacks against Roma individuals and whole communities, within the general context of discrimination against them in accessing health, education and other rights. “A few days before the International Roma Day, the Romani community of Přerov had to spend the day locked in their houses fearing for the security of their children instead of preparing for the celebration of the day,” said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Czech Republic. “We are scared for our own life,” said a Romani woman who has lived in the area for 16 years. I lived for 26 years together with the majority population and lived in harmony, before I moved to this part of town. At the beginning, the Roma and the majority population used to live integrated; now this part of town is 100% Roma.” Another woman added, “How do I explain to my children why they can’t go out to play on such a nice day?” Around 700 law enforcement officials, including anti-conflict unit and riot police, were present and ready to intervene in case the situation escalated. A high concentration of police took position around the Roma neighborhood in order to prevent violence and direct attacks against the Romani community.   Around twenty counter-demonstrators were pushed back by the police in order not to clash with the far-right demonstrators. However, as the rally proceeded, the far-right demonstrators attacked the counter-demonstrators. The quick intervention by the police calmed down the situation and the rally continued its route. At 3pm, the rally was officially closed at the train station, but violence broke out as far-right demonstrators attacked the riot police and mounted police with stones, petrol bombs, and firecrackers. The violence spread into the surrounding streets. By that stage, the police had completely blocked the Roma-populated neighborhood with tanks, police vans and riot police, which ensured the safety of the community. By 6pm, the situation had calmed down and most far-right demonstrators had left the town. According to media reports, 31 demonstrators were arrested and a few people, including police, were injured. “Advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence goes beyond the bounds of freedom of expression which is protected under international human rights law. Czech politicians and the government must strongly condemn violence, and incitement to violence, against any section of Czech society,” said Fotis Filippou. “The Czech authorities should also continue to take measures to ensure that Roma people are protected against the effects of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” “It is good that the police are here to protect us,” one Romani woman said, “but do we know what is going to happen overnight when the police aren’t around anymore?” The rally was originally called by the far-right Czech Worker’s party, which later distanced itself from it, but the organization of the rally was taken over by the far-right organizations Movement of Autonomous Nationalists and National Resistance.