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Czech attorney for the family of Stanislav Tomáš has requested a second autopsy - Romea.cz refutes disinformation being spread by Facebook LIVE broadcasters

13.7.2021 15:35
The remembrance site for the late Stanislav Tomáš in Teplice, Czech Republic (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
The remembrance site for the late Stanislav Tomáš in Teplice, Czech Republic (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

A great deal of disinformation about the case of the death of Stanislav Tomáš, a Romani community member, has been circulating on the Internet and is being spread with the help of different people who are broadcasting live to their followers through Facebook. As a result, some Romani people may now be under the false impression that not enough attention is being paid to the case and that the family of the late Mr Tomáš is not receiving appropriate assistance.

The Konexe organization has been helping the family of the late Mr Tomáš

On Sunday, 20 June 2021, a video began circulating on social media of the intervention by police against Mr Tomáš in Teplice, Czech Republic. That same evening the video footage was published by news server Romea.cz along with a Czech-language article.

On the morning of 21 June 2021, the English translation of the article was published by Romea.cz and news of the incident began to spread, including to media abroad. This report will not discuss how other media have reported on the case, what politicians' reactions to it have been, or what the Czech Police have and have not said about it.

Instead, this reporting will concentrate on how others have become involved in the case, whether they be individual Facebook LIVE broadcasters or nonprofit organizations. On Monday, 21 June Miroslav Brož and Romani community member Jozef Miker of the Konexe organization visited the scene of the tragedy.

Brož and Miker lit candles there and, together with journalist Saša Uhlová, managed to track down the sister of Mr Tomáš, Simona Tomášová. Brož then contacted the lawyer Maroš Matiaško who, on 24 June, became the family's legal representative.

Simultaneously, the director of the Romanonet organization, Michal Miko, had been negotiating the provision of legal representation to the family by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), headquartered in Brussels. The outcome of these efforts was that the ERRC, with the aid of Konexe and Romanonet in the Czech Republic, agreed to pay Matiaško for his work on behalf of the family of Mr Tomáš.

Ever since, the family has received professional assistance and a high-quality lawyer has been provided to them, and the costs of the entire case are more than likely to be financed for several years to come by the ERRC, an experienced international organization that has provided legal aid to Romani people all over Europe for years. Brož and Miker also began helping the family with funeral arrangements, with the support of other Czech nonprofit organizations such as Amnesty International's Czech branch, Awen Amenca, Romanonet, ROMEA, Romodrom and Slovo 21.

Facebook LIVE broadcasters and Roma Luma come onto the scene

This case has shocked the entire Romani community, and it is not surprising, therefore, that it has become a subject for the Facebook LIVE broadcasters from that community (see box). If these commentators had just stuck to broadcasting their opinions, there would be no need to write this article, but some of them attempted to contact Ms Tomášová, offered themselves to her as assistants despite being total amateurs, gave her all kinds of absurd advice, and also began broadcasting disinformation about the situation.

THE PHENOMENON OF FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCASTERS

This is a significant phenomenon involving the use of the Facebook social network to broadcast monologues or discussions live in real time and is popular above all among low-income Romani community members. These Romani influencers express their opinions on current events impacting Romani people in their frequent and lengthy broadcasts. They argue with each other and accuse each other of various things because an integral component of their broadcasts involves fundraising, allegedly to aid different Romani community members. Each broadcaster competes with every other broadcaster to see who can raise more money.

It is necessary at this juncture to state that all of the activity and assistance offered to the family in this case is praiseworthy, but just as not everybody can perform brain surgery, so assistance in cases such as the death of Mr Tomáš in police custody cannot be provided by amateurs. On Saturday 26 June, a memorial gathering was held in Teplice for Mr Tomáš - and despite the gathering having been organized by Konexe, people around the Roma Luma political party, which is trying to secure enough signatures to officially register, managed to seize control of that event; while Romani community member Miker did still moderate the gathering, Brož of Konexe became enemy number one on that occasion when he attempted to prevent one of the Facebook LIVE broadcasters from involving the sister of the deceased in his broadcast from the scene.

It would not be long before Miker, too, was designated as an enemy by these Romani influencers, as was the clergyman Mikuláš Vymětal, who had also been assisting Ms Tomášová. Facebook LIVE broadcaster David Mezei and other people around the Roma Luma party then began spreading misleading, untrue rumors about these civil society volunteers.

Mezei and the Roma Luma people began broadcasting attacks on the nonprofit organizations involved, accusing them of failing to help the family. They called Vymětal, who has assisted impoverished Roma for years, a fake parson, and some other Romani community members began making threats through social media against Brož and Miker.

At the same time, Mezei and Roma Luma began alleging that neither the lawyer working for the Tomáš family nor anybody else was actually providing the family with any aid. None of those allegations were true.

Brož, supported by other nonprofit organizations, helped Ms Tomášová with all of the paperwork associated with her brother's death, helped her arrange for mortuary services, and arranged for the transfer of her brother's body from the freezer unit at the forensic medicine department of the regional hospital to the freezer unit of the undertaker. He accompanied her on 2 July to the cemetery and when she was unable to locate her family plot, helped her eventually find it using a map provided by the cemetery office.

Together, Brož and Ms Tomášová visited the tombstone engraver and the undertaker, to whom she delivered the clothing she had purchased for her brother to wear in his coffin. They dealt with getting the death certificate issued, with the facility for the funeral and other related matters.

In the meantime, however, the Facebook LIVE broadcaster David Mezei was ranting and raving about the case online, asking his fans to send him money so he could live in a hotel in Teplice and "finally begin dealing with this case" (as he untruthfully alleged) directly from the scene of Mr Tomáš's demise - he also alleged that the nonprofit organizations involved with the case had reached secret agreements with the Czech Police to sweep the entire case under the rug. People around the fledgling Roma Luma political party contacted Ms Tomášová and had her sign powers of attorney for Mezei and others to help her prepare her brother's burial and communicate with a lawyer.

Brož and Miker never secured any powers of attorney for themselves from Ms Tomášová. They assisted her all the while without any such documentation.

David Mezei gets his hands on the Tomáš family case

During the week beginning with two state holidays in the Czech Republic (Monday, 5 July and Tuesday, 6 July), Mezei did make it to Teplice. He proceeded to absolutely take over Ms Tomášová's life.

Mezei broadcast dramatic videos in real time of how the two of them were driving to the cemetery to look for the unmarked family plot - the same plot that Brož had helped Ms Tomášová locate long before Mezei was on the scene. After that, Mezei broadcast himself and Ms Tomášová looking for her brother's body - which was, of course, already at the undertaker's, where Brož had already helped Ms Tomášová bring the clothing she wants her brother to wear in the coffin.

Confused, Ms Tomášová was unable to oppose Mezei's interpretation of events, and he even managed to destroy her belief in her attorney, Matiaško. This all came to a head during a live broadcast of a phone call placed to Matiaško during which Mezei literally yells accusations at him for having "done nothing".

Those accusations were lies, of course. In the meantime, the Czech Helsinki Committee in Prague had established an account to raise funds to support the family of the late Mr Tomáš.

Mezei and the people around the Roma Luma party immediately visited Czech Helsinki Committee director Lucie Rybová at the office of the organization in Prague and broadcast live from there together with her, an episode during which Mezei falsely alleged that the family's lawyer had yet to file a crime report or request a second autopsy. The financing being raised by the Czech Helsinki Committee is apparently meant to be used to bury Mr Tomáš, for example.

The funeral is also apparently going to be arranged by the people to whom Ms Tomášová has given her power of attorney. The meeting at the Czech Helsinki Committee offices was between Mezei and Roma Luma on the one hand and Rybová, Romanonet director Michal Miko, and Romodrom director Nikola Taragoš on the other, and the only media coverage that exists of it is the strongly misleading Facebook LIVE broadcast orchestrated by Mezei.

In that broadcast, Mezei alleges, for example, that those attending the meeting have agreed that Brož, Miker, and Vymětal - in other words, the people who were the first to begin helping Ms Tomášová - will no longer be involved with the case. During a subsequent internal meeting with other nonprofit organizations about Mezei's deceptive broadcast, Miko, Rybová and Taragoš all rejected Mezei's interpretation of the meeting.

However, neither Rybová nor anybody else who witnessed the meeting has taken the time to publicly refute Mezei's disinformation. That was a big mistake on their part.

The attorney has filed a crime report and requested a second autopsy

At this juncture we would like to refute the disinformation that is most harmful to the entire case: Matiaško, the attorney for the family, did file a crime report with the General Inspectorate of the Security Services (GIBS) on 28 June 2021 and informed the European Roma Rights Centre of that fact. At that same time he    filed the family's first request for a second autopsy.

It is only GIBS that can impartially investigate the suspected serious wrongdoing allegedly committed by the police officers who intervened against Mr Tomáš. The attorney refiled the family's request for a second autopsy during the week of 5 July, but GIBS refused to grant the request, this time stating that they have not opened a criminal proceedings in the case but that since the Regional Directorate of the Police of the Czech Republic in Ústí nad Labem has opened a criminal proceedings, the request for a second autopsy should be sent there.

Although this response did not seem correct to the attorney, he did file a third request for a second autopsy with the police in Ústí nad Labem on Thursday, 8 July 2021. It is, therefore, not true to state that a second autopsy has not been requested on behalf of the family!

Logically, lay people do not know the ropes of such legal matters, and it is possible that the disinformation that Mezei and Roma Luma have been broadcasting is not motivated by ill intent. Be that as it may, it is exactly such amateur "help" - which unfortunately has not stopped - that can result in this entire case being lost before it even begins.

Attorneys cannot represent people who do not trust them. The idea is simply naive that some other private attorney will be paid for by the "guys from Roma Luma" in a case that could last years and may even have to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The cost of such a case can be high, and without a strong international organization such as the ERRC, and especially without the proper legal expertise, it will not be prosecuted to the successful end that everybody involved certainly hopes for. Let's leave the professionals alone so they can keep working, and let's not prevent them from providing their assistance in a case that has already made headlines in the international media.

ROMEA, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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death after police intervention, pomoc, právní rady, Romani people



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