THE Brussels-based Eurodiaconia, a network of 47 Churches and Christian organisations, has called for “an independent, thorough, and objective” investigation of the death last month of a young Romany man, Stanislav Tomáš, while in police custody in the Czech Republic.
An open letter signed by Eurodiaconia and more than 350 Roma and human-rights groups, published last week, refers to the death on 19 June of Mr Tomáš, in the city of Teplice, in the western Czech Republic. The signatories say that they are “greatly disturbed” by video footage, which shows that “the amount of constant pressure applied to Stanislav’s upper body, neck and nape were totally inadequate and disproportionate to the act of immobilizing and handcuffing a person”.
The letter continues: “The constant pressure applied to his [Mr Tomáš’s] upper body was totally inadequate and disproportionate — it continued long after he was handcuffed, until after he stopped screaming and moving. . .
“We urge EU institutions to call for an independent, effective, and unbiased investigation into the case, with police officers thoroughly and duly investigated and sanctioned proportionately. . . It is crucial that the investigation also takes into account racial motivation, in line with European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence.”
The letter compares the video footage of Mr Tomáš treatment to the death of George Floyd last year (News, 5 June 2020). Mr Floyd’s death, it says “has not yet led to a ban of the police technique of using the knee on someone’s neck across all European countries, despite European-wide outrage and follow-up European Parliament resolution”.
The letter says that the Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, and his Interior Minister have both “backed the police”, instead of remaining impartial until judicial investigations were held.
“Police . . . have an obligation, especially in democratic societies and the EU, to perform their duties in accordance with universally agreed standards of human, civil and political rights, regardless of the circumstances, the protection and preservation of life should have been their highest priority.”
The letter was sent to the President of the EU Commission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen, and other political leaders.
The ten to 12 million Roma in Europe make up one third of the world’s total, and are the Continent’s least organised and represented minority: up to four-fifths live in poverty, and life expectancy is ten years below the European average.
In October, the EU Commission launched a ten-year Roma Strategic Framework, aimed at combating discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion among Roma.
In a statement in April, however, Eurodiaconia said that anti-coronavirus measures in the Czech Republic and other countries had left Roma facing “distressed conditions”, and urged governments to make “concrete commitments” to improve their access to education and social protection.
In a statement on Monday, the European Roma Rights Centre, in Budapest, said that it had appointed a lawyer to represent Mr Tomas’s family, but warned that the case could take years to complete.
It said that the death of Mr Tomas, which sparked protests by Roma and human-rights groups in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Romania, and Spain, had received attention because it was caught on camera, unlike “most cases of police brutality or killings” investigated by the Centre.
The Council of Europe described the police action against Mr Tomas as “alarming”, and also demanded an “urgent, thorough and independent investigation”.