BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Three serial killers who targeted members of Hungary’s Roma minority in 2008 and 2009 were jailed for life on Tuesday, the state news agency MTI reported on Tuesday.
The 18 months of violence, in which six people, including a small child, were killed and several more were injured, highlighted Hungary’s difficulties in integrating its 500,000-strong Roma population. The killers were caught in August 2009.
The killings came at a time when Hungary, a landlocked central European nation of 10 million, underwent economic and political crisis. Its gross domestic output plummeted, its government collapsed and the far-right Jobbik party rose to prominence.
The three perpetrators were Zsolt Peto and the brothers Istvan Kiss and Arpad Kiss, militants with skinhead pasts from eastern Hungary.
The country’s top court passed the harshest possible sentence for a crime that a judge at a lower court said was a showcase to demonstrate that racist murders would incur the toughest penalties.
A fourth accomplice, Istvan Csontos, who drove the murderers on their criminal outings, got a 13-year sentence last year.
The string of murders played out gradually, with the country slowly realizing that the perpetrators were the same people following a racist ideology. Several people, including Roma, were erroneously detained at early stages for the first attacks.
After several non-lethal attacks they committed their first murder in November 2008, killing two people.
In February 2009 they struck in Tatarszentgyorgy, central Hungary, setting a house on fire and shooting a 28-year-old Roma man and his 5-year old son who were fleeing the flames in what became the single most gruesome of the attacks.
The long trial inspired a documentary, titled Sentence in Hungary. Its director Eszter Hajdu told the news web site Origo that she hoped the film would forge unity among the Roma.
“I kept wondering why Jews like to watch Holocaust movies,” she said. “While making this film I understood it taught vigilance and lead to emancipation.”
“After this film it will no longer be possible to engage in a good old round of Roma bashing.”
Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Ralph Boulton