Teenage neo-Nazi vandals sentenced to community service

Last September, a gang of seven neo-Nazi youths took part in a shocking attack on a Jewish cemetery in Uhrineves on the outskirts of Prague. On Thursday, two of them, aged 16, stood trial in Prague. The court found them guilty of racially motivated crimes, but sentenced them to just 400 and 300 hours of community service. Pavla Horakova has more.

The Czech public were shocked and disgusted late last year when Czech TV first broadcast a home video of a gang of neo-Nazi youths knocking over headstones - 58 in all - in the Jewish cemetery, giving the Hitler salute and singing anti-Jewish songs. One of the most shocking aspects of the case was that the teenagers themselves had made the video. They may now be regretting doing so, as the video was used as evidence against them in a Prague court on Thursday. Only two of the offenders - who were sixteen at the time of the attack - were old enough to face trial. But even they were given light sentences of 400 and 300 hours of community service.

I asked the chairman of the Prague Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, whether he though the punishment was adequate.

"We will see in the future what happens with those young guys whether this punishment was sufficient but if you look at it from the point that they are 16 years old and they will have to work for three months every day, it seems to me that it is a good punishment which will not destroy those young people, which will give them a chance to change."

The police withdrew charges against the five other members of the gang because of their ages - they were 14 and 15. Those were probably the most violent of the gang, at least judging from the video. Do you think that it is right that they will go unpunished?

"It is a question of the law, if you are younger than 16 years you cannot be punished. But it sort of signals a very big problem. And as experts on right wing extremism said many times is that the age of the people involved in the skinhead movement is going down. So it could be also part of their tactic - that only young members are violent and it's known they cannot be punished. It's the same strategy as is used by the pickpockets in Prague."

Was this an isolated incident, an act of juvenile delinquency, or does it reflect a general climate in the society? Are Czechs anti-Semitic?

"Unfortunately I can that it was not a unique thing what happened last year. Because this year we have already had a very similar attack on a Jewish cemetery in Brandys. What is a fact is that in the Czech society there is quite a significant minority of youngsters who like the neo-Nazi ideology and who are xenophobic and racist and it's a big issue for the people responsible for the education and training of the young population to change that."