Athens, 6/10/2015. Decision no. 398/2014 of the Mixed Jury Court of Athens in the murder case of Shehzad Luqman constitutes a landmark decision. The Court confirmed the position adopted by the Racist Violence Recording Network “that the criminal offences were motivated by hatred”. The Court’s reasoning underlined the qualitative elements and the special circumstances under which the crime was committed:
“numerical superiority of perpetrators – at midnight- attack against an individual unknown to them, who was targeted as a Pakistani migrant, with the use of knives, in an area frequented by migrants and the identification of the victim was easier, without any provocation by the victim, repeated stabs, escape by removing the evidence and hiding the distinctive features of the vehicle, moving ahead without fear of localization and arrest (…)”.
As repeatedly highlighted by the Racist Violence Recording Network, these elements are some of those that distinguish classic racist crimes. Since the first Network’s recordings, a similar pattern of racist incidents has emerged. However, all courts, assessing a crime’s motive, should always rely their legal reasoning on the examination and cross-evaluation of the facts. Therefore, while the Court correctly notes that the evidence found in the house of one of the accused and the existence of extremist political beliefs do not substantiate as such the racist element of the criminal offences by either defendant, it should be pointed out that indications of connection of a suspect or a defendant to racist and neo-Nazi groups should always be investigated by the police and evaluated by the judicial authorities, as potential evidence of racist motive.
In some cases, in order to examine whether the crime was racially motivated, it is required to take into account both clear and less obvious evidence. Hence, patent evidence, such as the victim’s ethnic origin, may not be sufficient. In other words, not any crime against a victim of another ethnic origin is a hate crime; nonetheless, the judicial authorities should always evaluate all the facts and fully justify their decision.
However in some crimes, victims are targeted due to racism or prejudice in combination with other motives. Thus, although in some cases the perpetrator targets the victim mainly in order to steal his/her money, it is the victim’s origin and vulnerability that permits or stimulates the crime. Often a crime is perpetrated in unusually cruel ways so as to denote the absolute denigration of the victim’s dignity because of his/her ethnic origin.
Usually, the specific circumstances in which the crime is committed indicate that the same crime would not have been committed against a person who does not bear the same characteristics (e.g. against a person who is not foreign and undocumented or a non-transgender person) or that even if the same crime was committed, it would not be as violent.
Racist violence, as other serious human rights violations, has a long-term impact on victims. Intense negative feelings such as fear, anger and depression are not easily, if ever, remediated. Racist violence, as a structural and collective problem of a society, needs to be dealt with in a multi-level strategic response. Nonetheless, the effort to redress the individual impact of the racist crime on the victim should not be underestimated. However, the effect of the perpetrator’s punishment goes beyond the individual case, and in practice, constitutes a form of protection to all members of the community, targeted due to racist, homophobic or transphobic hate.
Thus the recognition of the aggravating circumstance and the consequential increase of the sentence serves two purposes: firstly, it symbolizes the condemnation of racist violence by a democratic society with respect for diversity and secondly, it responds proportionately to the brutality of the action against the victim, who usually is more vulnerable and faces fundamental barriers to accessing justice.
Shehzad Luqman was targeted by the perpetrators on the basis of what he represented rather than who he was. The recognition of the racist motive in this case is not only a legal victory for the institutions and stakeholders combating racist violence. By fully justifying its decision in regards to the racist motive, the Justice system concurrently demonstrates reflexes against racist crimes.
The Racist Violence Recording Network welcomes this decision, taking into account that impunity has been cultivated over a very long period. May this decision serve as an additional trigger so as that all hate crimes, motivated solely or cumulatively by hatred or bias, be punished as such.
For any further information please contact:
Ms. Tina Stavrinaki, email@example.com, 210.7233216