Europe’s human rights body seeks probe into Czech Roma death

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A man  lighting up candle Tuesday, June 22, 2021  in Teplice, Czech Republic, in the place where a Roma man died in an ambulance after a police action on Saturday, June 19. An autopsy has ruled out the connection between the police action and the death of the man, who was apparently under the influence of narcotics. (Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP) SLOVAKIA OUT

PRAGUE (AP) — Europe’s main human rights body on Wednesday demanded a thorough and independent investigation into the death of a Roma man who died after a Czech police officer responding to a call over an altercation knelt on his neck.

Police say the man’s death last week was due to a drug overdose. But Roma activists reject that explanation and are planning a protest rally in Prague later Wednesday.

Some compare the incident to the killing of George Floyd, a Black American man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, according to prosecutors.

The Council of Europe said in a statement Wednesday that the police action was “alarming and raises numerous questions about the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

Three police officers were involved in Saturday’s incident in the northern city of Teplice.

Video footage shows one of them kneeling on the man’s neck for several minutes. The man, who has not been formally named, later died in an ambulance. Police said a drug overdose was preliminary determined by a doctor as the cause of death.

Police deny wrongdoing. Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said he stands by them.

They said the preliminary autopsy showed the man had a drug in his system and a heart problem, rejecting that his death had anything to do with their intervention.

Police said they arrived at the scene, in a Roma neighborhood, after receiving a call that two men were fighting and damaging nearby cars. They said one of the men fled but the other attacked them after they approached him when they saw him lying on the street.

The site has been turned into an impromptu memorial, with people coming to light candles.

Roma have long suffered racism and discrimination in eastern Europe and continue to face huge hurdles in employment and education.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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