The sentencing of the defendants in the attacks against Roma victims is binding

One of the most serious crime-series ever committed in the history of Hungarian criminology and forensics started on the 21st July 2008 in village called Galgagyörk in Pest County.

The racist attacks carried on for a year until the perpetrators were arrested on 21st August 2009 in a nightclub in Debrecen. The case was closed with the 12th January 2016 ruling against the accused where the Curia (Supreme Court) upheld the Budapest Court of Appeal’s ruling being guilty as charged.

The accused attacked people of Roma origin in Galgagyörk on 21st July 2008, in Piricse on 8th Aug, in Nyíradony on 5th Sept, in Tarnabod on 29th Sept, in Nagycsécs on 3rd Nov, in Alsózsolca on 15th Dec, in Tatárszentgyörgy on 23rd Feb 2009, in Tiszalök on 22nd Apr and in Kisléta on 3rd Aug. The attacks in Kisléta and Tiszalök had one fatality each and the ones in Nagycsécs and Tatárszentgyörgy two each. The four perpetrators killed six people during these attacks, caused permanent physical damage to two people, threatened 55 people’s physical safety, fired their guns 78 times and released 11 petrol bombs. [1]

The first-degree trial started on 25th March 2011 in the Budapest Environs Regional Court during which the first accused Árpád Kiss, the second accused István Kiss and the third accused Zsolt Pető were charged with five counts of murder and armed robbery committed in a group. The forth accused István Csontos who participated in the last two attacks as a driver was charged as an accessory, not as perpetrator. The first-degree ruling was brought on 6th Aug 2013, 865 days after the trial started. The first, second and third accused were sentenced to a life imprisonment without parole; the fourth accused was sentenced 13 years in jail. The perpetrators’ racist intent was clearly established in the presiding judge’s verbal statement where it was stressed that it is morally unacceptable and therefore makes the offense more serious when victims are attacked because of their ethnicity or nationality. All four accused appealed for the first-degree ruling to be repealed, for new proceedings and for their acquittal.

The second-degree ruling was announced on 6th May 2015 by the Budapest Court of Appeal, which partly revised the first-degree ruling in that the first three accused were also found guilty in an additional crime. The second-degree ruling became final in the case of the fourth accused. The Court of Appeal partially agreed with the first-degree ruling in its verbal statement in that the motivation of the accused was motivated by hatred towards the Roma race. The individual victims were irrelevant to the killers and this resulted in the most serious ruling - life imprisonment without parole -, which was also a message to the society as a whole: whoever commits life threatening crime against people out of racist motivation can expect the heaviest punishment available.

In January 2016 the Curia upheld the second-degree ruling, which made the sentencing for the first, second and third accused binding. Unfortunately the Curia in its verbal statement did not stress the racist motive in this case. The terms ‘Roma’, ‘anti-gypsy’ or ‘racist’ were not even mentioned, which means the Curia did not make a stand against racism while announcing the judgement which was covered by a wide range of media. Nevertheless the position of the court is reflected well by the presiding judge’s statement: ‘It is out of the question that the court wouldn’t not hand out the heaviest punishment available’ [2]

The proceedings of the first-degree court case is showcased in Eszter Hajdú’s documentary titled ‘Judgment in Hungary’, which explores the background and motivation of the serial killings. The literary sociography ‘Romani Roulette’ by writer and sociologist Zoltán Tábori provides an authentic picture of the location of the attacks, the atmosphere after the events and the reactions of the local residents through interviews filmed on location of the attacks. Benedek Fliegauf’s film ‘Only the wind’ was also inspired by these attacks.

During the investigation the authorities did a negligent and incomplete job: only after eight attacks did they consider the possibility that there might be a connection between the incidents, and that they could be racially motivated. The most severe mistake was made at the crime scene investigation in Tatárszentgyörgy. The European Roma Rights Centre, the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) scrutinised this investigation to explore and analyse the lawfulness of the investigation of the authorities. The Chief of the National Police Headquarters later admitted to the failings of the procedure as well. The search and inspection conducted by the police after the capture of the suspects was also noticeably lax. The first-degree court attempted to rectify these insufficiencies and omissions, hence the initial court case lasting more than 2-years.

The attacks against these Roma people highlighted the kind of steps the state should make to prevent and handle hate crimes adequately. The Working Group against Hate Crime suggests the following: efficient organisational solutions within the police and the prosecutor’s office; use of internationally accepted criminal protocols; specialist training for those in law enforcement; efficient state protection of victims; an effective statistical database.

It is important to mention related to the sentences, that the life imprisonment without parole has been found inhumane and degrading, which is against the European Human Rights Convention.

[1] Judgment in the Roma murders – summary 23rd Aug 2013 http://www.galamuscsoport.hu/tartalom/cikk/322148_itelet_a_romagyilkossagok_ugyeben_osszefoglalo

[2] András B Vágvölgyi: Out of the question. Life and Literature, year 60, issue no. 2, 16th Jan 2016, page 10

This article was published in Hungarian by the Hungarian Working Group Against Hate Crimes (Gyűlölet-bűncselekmények Elleni Munkacsoport) here.

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