RELEASING the men suspected of brutally attacking the owner and several customers of a bar in Nitra immediately after the incident was a serious failure. Releasing them when they were detained again more than three months later, after the media published a video of the attack, was a tragedy.
This is how General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár, when speaking in parliament on February 4, described the work of the two Nitra district prosecutors assigned to the case of the young men resembling neo-Nazis who assaulted the owner and several patrons of the Mariatchi Bar, a popular student hangout in downtown Nitra.
The case received wide public and political attention after the Sme daily published a video of the attack recorded by municipal security cameras, which occurred on October 5, 2013, showing the assailants kicking one victim in the head repeatedly. The incident was reportedly just one in a series of similar assaults.
The prosecutor assigned to the case released the five suspects who were detained shortly after the attack. On January 29, after Sme published the video, the attackers were detained again only to be released soon afterwards, as another prosecutor who was assigned to the case saw no legal reason to keep them in custody.
The only reason the suspects are not behind bars now is because of procedural errors made by the prosecutors, Čižnár said. The prosecutors, according to him, failed to check the suspects’ backgrounds in the penal register.
“The prosecutor said she did not see a reason for custody,” Čižnár told the MPs of the parliamentary legal and constitutional committee. “Well, she couldn’t indeed, since she didn’t even have them inspected.”
Čižnár suggested that in similar cases the prosecutor should also check to see whether the name of a suspect appears in what he called the special register. He did not specify what the special register is.
Further inspection would have revealed that some of the five men, aged between 21 and 33, have a history of violent attacks, which would require the assigned prosecutors to keep them in custody, according to Čižnár.
He also criticised the second prosecutor for qualifying the case as merely a “breach of peace” after the video had already been published, adding that “not even a prosecution clerk” would classify it as such.
GP takes over
The release of the assailants, in addition to other mistakes made by the prosecutors, was enough to prompt Čižnár’s office to take over the case and conduct an in-depth inspection of the Nitra district office to search for similar cases.
“Because I cannot guarantee that there aren’t more such cases that the media has not found out about,” Čižnár said, adding that he has a bad feeling that cases like these are downplayed, just like this case.
The two prosecutors who Čižnár says erred in the case are to be disciplined.
The general prosecutor pledged his office will do its best to right these errors.
The prosecution is also expected to take action over another attack that took place on New Year’s Eve and left the Mariatchi bar’s owner with a broken leg. Nobody was detained following that incident.
Police inspected too
Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák and Police President Tibor Gašpar were also invited to speak before the parliamentary legal and constitutional affairs committee. They defended the police procedure and claimed there were reasons why the police took four months to press charges, which they eventually did only one day after Sme published the video.
Kaliňák insisted on his previous explanation that the police took so long to investigate the case in order to gather sufficient evidence to be able to charge the suspects with more severe crimes.
“We are arguing about whether it is better to hit with a small hammer at the beginning, or with a big axe at the end,” Kaliňák said, as quoted by Sme.
The opposition welcomes the general prosecutor’s intervention in the case, but slammed the police for what they see as procrastination. Independent MP and former interior minister Daniel Lipšic accused Kaliňák and Gašpar of lying and called for the police president to be dismissed from his post. Lipšic was then accused of politicising the case.
Although the minister and the police president defended the work of the police in the case, they too sent an inspection team to Nitra.
Kaliňák admitted to the MPs that one of the attackers is a member of the fire rescue forces. The opposition also alleged that one of the attackers is a soldier, but Kaliňák did not confirm this at the committee session.
Tougher punishment for groups?
When discussing the specifics of the Nitra case, Čižnár noted that these kinds of attackers rarely act alone.
“They are great heroes who first pick someone out and then play with them,” Čižnár said, as quoted by Sme.
Kaliňák suggested that the police could apply stricter sentences to groups who attack individuals, the TASR newswire reported.
The minister also pledged that the ministry will introduce an interdepartmental coordination system to fight extremism, with specialist Daniel Milo to act as the coordinator.
At the end of the two-day committee session, MPs voted to have the police draw a “map of violence”, which would show the number of violent crimes distributed by districts, along with the correlation of the number of such crimes in the vicinity of socially excluded communities, the SITA newswire reported. The committee also assigned the interior minister to provide information on whether any of the suspects in the Nitra attack are employees of the state’s armed forces.
Concerts against violence
Meanwhile in Nitra, organisers of various festivals in Slovakia joined forces to support the Mariatchi Bar, which people have been avoiding since the attacks out of fear. They have planned a series of events in the bar to protest violence and racism.
Festival organisers, including Pohoda, Topfest, Grape, Bratislava Jazz Days, Slížovica, Uprising, Vrbovské Vetry, Wilsonic and Convergences will take turns hosting one Saturday each.
The bar’s owner, Radovan Richtárik, told Sme that the first concert on February 1, organised by the Vrbovské Vetry festival organisers, brought a record number of customers to his establishment.
“Free festivals depend on a free club scene, on small places where different people can gather without fear,” the statement of the festival organisers reads, as quoted by Sme. “We want people to not be afraid to go to a club, a bar, a pub or a festival. To not be afraid to go out into the streets, to the park or to any other public space just because of their hairstyle, skin colour or their mother tongue.”
10. Feb 2014 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani