Czech officials defend police over death of Roma detainee

Top politicians and police chiefs reject comparisons to killing of George Floyd in US

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis arrives on the first day of a European Union  summit in Brussels on Thursday Photograph: Johanna Geron/AFP via Getty Images

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis arrives on the first day of a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday Photograph: Johanna Geron/AFP via Getty Images

 

Top Czech officials have defended the police’s handling of a case that ended in the death of a Roma man, despite calls for an independent investigation into an incident that has been compared to the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

Stanislav Tomas died in the Czech city of Teplice last Saturday shortly after being arrested by three police officers, one of whom appeared to kneel on his neck for several minutes as they held him down and struggled to restrain him.

Footage of the arrest prompted some to draw parallels with the killing of Mr Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest last year, sparking protests across the US and fuelling the international Black Lives Matter movement.

Rights activists are now using the hashtag “#RomaLivesMatter” on social media, and demanding an impartial inquiry into an incident that they say throws a spotlight on systemic discrimination against Roma people in the Czech Republic and elsewhere.

Populist Czech prime minister Andrej Babis was quick to defend the officers involved however, and the police service insists they behaved correctly and that Mr Tomas died due to drug use and heart disease.

“There is no ‘Czech Floyd’,” the police force stated on its Twitter account.

Autopsy

“The action against a . . . recidivist, who under the influence of drugs vandalised cars in the area and ignored all appeals from police officers, took place in accordance with the law and had no link to (his) death . . . This was confirmed by a court autopsy.”

Czech interior minister Jan Hamacek said on Thursday: “I am sorry for every lost human life, it is appropriate to express my condolences to the bereaved, but the fundamental thing is that drugs killed this man. If he hadn’t taken them, he would still be here.”

Mr Hamacek has expressed “full support” for the officers and said anyone “under the influence of addictive substances [who] violates the law . . . must reckon with the police intervening.”

Mr Babis echoed that view and police assertions – which appear to be backed up by some video evidence – that Mr Tomas was acting violently before his arrest.

“If someone is destroying cars, is aggressive and even bites a policeman, then they cannot expect to be treated with kid gloves,” the tycoon-turned-politician said.

By contrast, the Council of Europe said the “alarming” footage of the arrest “raises numerous questions about the circumstances of this tragic incident”, and called for “an urgent, thorough, and independent investigation”.

Amnesty International also urged the Czech authorities to launch an inquiry into the incident, and said they must “take all reasonable steps to unmask any racist motive and to establish whether or not ethnic hatred or prejudice may have played a role”.