europe

Death of Romany man knelt on by Czech police must be ‘investigated urgently’


Human rights organisations are leading calls for an urgent investigation into the death of a Czech man who died after being restrained by police, after footage of the incident went viral on social media.

The neck restraint technique used during the arrest of a Romany man was “reckless, unnecessary and disproportionate, and therefore unlawful”, according to Amnesty International, who also called on the local authorities for an immediate, impartial investigation and a ban on coercive techniques that severely restrict breathing.

In a statement, Amnesty International said the Czech police breached Czech law 273/2008, which obliges police not to interfere with the rights of others more than is unavoidable and only using force that is necessary and proportionate.

The Council of Europe released a statement describing the police action as “alarmingand also called for an “urgent, thorough, and independent investigation”.

The man, named locally as Stanislav Tomáš, died in an ambulance shortly after being arrested on 19 June. Footage of the arrest shows police officers pinning Tomáš to the ground, with one officer kneeling at various times on the man’s neck and back. Czechs compared his death to that of George Floyd, who died in 2020 after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for several minutes during his arrest.

Eyewitnesses told the Guardian that Tomáš was arrested after attempting to stop a car being vandalised, but the Czech police and authorities have rejected this narrative. The regional police spokesman, Daniel Vítek, said the police received a complaint on Saturday, shortly before 3pm, regarding two men fighting and damaging cars on Dubská street in Teplice.

The police later tweeted a video titled “No Czech Floyd …” to show what had preceded their intervention. The footage shows two shirtless figures running around the street, shouting and punching cars.

Czech interior minister Jan Hamáček backed the police, saying on Twitter: “The police has my full support. If someone under the influence of drugs breaks the law, they have to count on the Czech police intervening. Thanks to the work of police officers, we are one of the top 10 safest countries in the world.”

Jonathan Lee from the European Roma Rights Centre believes Tomáš’s death is emblematic of the discrimination of Roma in the Czech Republic and Europe. “Police violence is the most common and visible human rights abuse Roma face across all of Europe,” he said.

“Whether it is lack of training, negligence or wilful discrimination, Czech authorities should be held accountable after an impartial investigation is conducted,” said Lee.

Vigils for Tomáš are being held in the Czech Republic, Brussels and Glasgow.





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