A Hungarian court has found four men guilty of murdering six Roma, including a child, during a racist killing spree. Three accused were given life terms without parole. Rights groups said the verdict was crucial.
A court in Budapest imposed long jail terms Tuesday on four men found guilty of perpetrating racist murders in 2008 and 2009 among Hungary's largest ethnic minority, Roma.
The verdicts ended a two-year trial closely watched by partner nations of the European Union.
Life-long jail terms were handed down to Arpad Kiss, Istvan Kiss and Zsolt Peto. They had denied carrying out the attacks and are expected to lodge appeals.
A fourth defendant, Istvan Csontos, who acted as a driver, was given a 13-year jail sentence. He had pleaded guilty to charges of collusion.
Since the start of the trial in March 2011, the Budapest District Court had heard testimony from more than 200 witnesses and 43 experts.
Prosecutors said the four accused, all hardcore fans of Debrecen football club in northeastern Hungary with neo-Nazi tendencies, had run-ins with Roma in the past and had planned their attacks in a pub.
Their assaults on remote rural settlements in northeastern Hungary, carried out over a 13-month period, left Roma terrified while the perpetrators remained on the loose until their arrests in August 2009.
Prosecutors said the attackers used grenades, guns and five bombs in nine attacks. Homes were set on fire and 80 gun shots were fired.
Police were accused of failing to protect the minority, which faces widespread discrimination and poverty. Legal analysts say civil cases could still be brought against the Hungarian state for alleged errors made in the investigation.
Child gunned down
In one attack, a Roma father and his five-year-old son were gunned down as they tried to flee their home. In another attack, a woman was shot in her sleep.
Five other people were left injured in the year-long spree.
On Monday, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) had warned that the court's verdict would be crucial in determining how Hungary tackles racism in the future.
"The prejudice against Roma and the resulting crimes remain the most serious human rights issue in Hungary," said the HCLU's head Eszter Jovanovics.
During Tuesday's sentencing in Budapest, hundreds of people gathered to hear the verdicts, some wearing T-shirts bearing pictures of the victims. Police security was heavy.
Roma make up about 7 percent of Hungary's population of 10 million. The Roma people, also called Gypsies though many consider the term pejorative, are a minority in several Eastern and Central European countries.
The far-right Jobbik party, which has openly vilified Roma, won 17 percent of the votes for parliament in 2010, becoming Hungary's third largest party.
In January, a prominent right-wing journalist close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Zsolt Bayer, said Roma "shouldn't be tolerated." The pro-government newspaper Magyar Hirlap, which published Bayer's remarks, was later fined by the country's media regulator.
Orban has long been accused of pandering to the openly anti-Semitic and racist Jobbik party and of presiding over a rise in xenophobia in the EU member state, although he says he abhors any such feelings.
ipj/tj (Reuters, AFP)