The arson attack on the Romas, or gypsies, happened in the northeastern Czech town of Vitkov on April 19, 2009 — a day before the 120th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death.
The attack stoked fears among the public of growing activity of ultra-right and neo-Nazi groups in the Czech Republic. Most of the Czech society of nearly 11 million have been outraged by the assault that intimidated the country’s largely impoverished and ostracized Roma community, estimated at about 300,000 people.
During the televised trial of the four arsonists, prosecutors showed evidence that the four men, between 22 and 26 years of age, were members or sympathizers of illegal Nazi extremist groups, and that they threw homemade Molotov cocktails at the house with an intention to take lives.
“The culprits chose the night, the house and the three centers of the fire with the intention to kill the people in the house, or to make their rescue difficult,” Miloslav Studnicka, a judge from the regional Ostrava court presiding over the trial, said during the sentence delivery.
Two adults were injured during the fire, but a toddler named Natalka suffered burns on 80% of her body and was released from hospital care nearly eight months after the attack. (Photos and a Czech article on the trial here.)
The judge went on to describe the crime as explicitly motivated by racial and ethnic hatred.
“[Perpetrators] committed the crime (…) in an exceptionally cruel and painful way, on people younger than 15 years of age, and because of their ethnicity,” the judge said.