Roma Lives Matter demo in Czech capital hears eyewitness testimony that Stanislav Tomáš was carried motionless on a stretcher into the ambulance
Roughly 100 people assembled Wednesday on Palackého náměstí in Prague to demonstrate about the death of Stanislav Tomáš in Teplice, who died after police intervened against him. Activists criticized the police approach during the event, which was called Roma Lives Matter
Those attending protested against discrimination and racism. The case has sparked a sharp reaction from Romani organizations abroad as well as protests abroad and in the Czech Republic.
The police have repeatedly rejected the notion that their intervention could have contributed to the death of Mr Tomáš. A preliminary autopsy report, according to them, found no injury to his organs or signs of suffocation, but did find that he had methamphetamine in his body and died of heart failure.
The Czech media have interpreted that information to mean that he died of a drug overdose. Those attending Wednesday's demonstration rejected the idea that the intervention by police is somehow completely unrelated to the death of Mr Tomáš.
Speakers at the assembly said they do not believe the police version of events. They also criticized those politicians who have stood up for the approach taken by police.
Support for the police has been expressed by Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (ČSSD) and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), among others. The activists believe the death of Mr Tomáš has been belittled by the authorities.
"Bias, discrimination and racism exists in the Czech Republic," said David Tišer of the group Romane Kale Panthera (RKP), the Romani Black Panthers, which co-organized the demonstration. They conducted a brief funeral procession at the gathering.
The procession was led by two Romani musicians playing the accordion and saxophone. They were followed by four people carrying a wreath and wearing black balaclavas to which feline ears were added.
At the close of their procession the people in balaclavas spoke to the statue on the square of František Palacký, the Czech historian and politician who was the most influential member of the 19th-century Czech National Revival. Those gathered were then addressed by Jozef Miker, the Romani activist who is in close contact with the family of the deceased and who has been helping them arrange Mr Tomáš's actual funeral together with activist Miroslav Brož.
During his speech, Miker played an audio recording of two women who claim to have seen the entire police intervention and who described what they saw. According to their statements, Mr Tomáš stopped reacting to the officers' intervention while he was still prone on the sidewalk.
After the ambulance arrived, the eyewitnesses say Mr Tomáš was completely immobile when he was carried into it. They also said in the audio recording that they gave that exact same statement to the police when asked to describe what they had seen.
In their first communications to the public about the case, the Czech Police said that Mr Tomáš did not collapse until after he was inside the ambulance - and at a subsequent press conference, the police revealed that they were actually unable to say when exactly he collapsed. The audio recording played by Miker during the demonstration also alleges that police called reinforcements to the scene of their intervention against Mr Tomáš.
The women in Miker's recording say the reinforcements were riot units. Wednesday's demonstration in Prague was attended mainly by young people.
Many of those attending identify as anarchists or with left-wing groups. "We are gadje [non-Roma] from Prague and we want Romani people in Teplice to know their lives are just as important as anybody else's," one participant in the assembly said.
Five people carrying the Confederate flag from the Civil War in the USA then disrupted the event. The flag is considered a symbol of racist segregation outside the US as well.
The five were also carrying signs arguing that drugs caused Mr Tomáš's death. An altercation ensued.
The scuffle lasted several minutes. The assembly had not been officially announced to the authorities ahead of time.
Events on Palackého náměstí are not required to be pre-announced. There were no police officers in uniform at the demonstration or anywhere in sight to supervise safety.
Some police officers were stationed in the small park located between the buildings of the Health Ministry and Labor and Social Affairs Ministry in the immediate vicinity. After 19:30, most officers left the scene; the demonstration had begun at 18:00.
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