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image copyrightCzech policeimage captionPolice published a separate video showing the man attacking a car window and fighting with another man before they arrived

The Czech government has backed the actions of police after video showed an officer kneeling on the shoulders and neck of a Roma man, who later died.

Roma groups have been shocked by the video, which was filmed from a window on Saturday in the north-western town of Teplice.

The man is seen being overpowered by three officers and several minutes later lies motionless on the pavement.

"No Czech Floyd," said police, rejecting accusations on social media.

Members of the Roma community compare the incident to the death of African-American George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes in Minneapolis in May 2020.

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Czech police say they had to use force because the man in Teplice had become aggressive after a drug overdose.

They say he died in an ambulance and that the preliminary cause of death was the overdose. They cite a preliminary post mortem examination that finds he suffered "pathological changes to the coronary arteries" believed to be from amphetamine use.

Horrendous. Video filmed by an eyewitness shows Czech police kneeling on the neck of a young Romani man for more than five minutes while the man writhes in pain, screams for help, and then goes quiet. The man was pronounced dead in an ambulance.

— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) June 21, 2021
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They have released a second video taken shortly before police arrived showing the man stripped to his waist, lying on the pavement and shouting. He then gets to his feet and lunges at another man before repeatedly punching a nearby car. Police say the man's death was not linked to the circumstances of his arrest.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek tweeted that police had his full support and were entitled to respond to anyone under the influence of drugs.

However, Roma organisations say it has highlighted the way their community is treated by Czech authorities. Michal Miko of Romanonet said it was the "height of brutality".

"If he was already arrested with his hands cuffed behind his back, why were they kneeling on him for the next three minutes? That's something I don't understand," he told the BBC.

Cause of Roma death still unclear

Some have been quick to criticise journalists and commentators who have drawn parallels with the George Floyd case.

Online investigative journal Hlidaci Pes (Watchdog) examined the video. It says the officer releases his knee several times, and claims for most of the recording he has his knee on the man's back and shoulder blades, rather than on his neck. This, it says, is regular police procedure in such restraints.

However, the videos represent two fragments – one lasting 27 seconds and one five minutes 55 seconds – of a longer incident. There is no footage, yet, of the man being loaded into the ambulance. The exact cause of death will only be revealed by a full autopsy.

What is beyond doubt is the level of mistrust and hostility between the Roma minority and majority society, especially in socially excluded areas of poorer towns such as Teplice. No pathologist is needed to diagnose that.

Mr Miko was sceptical about the preliminary post mortem examination. If the man had not died while he was being subdued then police should have released video of him being moved to an ambulance, he argued.

He said the case echoed the earlier death of a young drug user who was knelt on by police in the northern town of Zatec in 2016.

"I think we are depressed that this can happen in a democratic country. It's about justice and systematic racism that shows us what it's like to be a Roma in the Czech Republic."

Who are Europe's Roma?

  • Ten to 12 million Roma live in Europe – the continent's biggest ethnic minority but among its most marginalised
  • An estimated 2m live in Romania, 700,000 in Bulgaria, 500,000 in Hungary, 450,000 in Slovakia, 300,000 in the Czech Republic
  • 41% have experienced discrimination in the past five years
  • 62% of Roma youth are not in education, training or employment

Sources: European Commission; Council of Europe; Fundación Secretariado Gitano

media captionEurope's Roma: 'Even dogs can't live like this' under Covid