Current Affairs Burly pensioner becomes internet hero after intervening in Prague arrest
A minor scuffle in Prague at the weekend is now receiving nationwide coverage, after video footage showed police officers using what appeared to be excessive force to subdue a man who’d intervened in an arrest. The incident took place in broad daylight at the busy Anděl intersection, and was captured by a passer-by on his mobile phone.
This footage has now been seen by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people across the country, due to the actions of a quick-witted member of the public and the power of the internet. It seems to show a pair of city police officers using excessive force to subdue a young homeless woman on crutches who was protesting at the arrest of a male companion for drinking in public despite a ban.
After apparently trying to strike one of the officers the woman is thrown roughly to the ground and dragged over the cobblestones. At this point an older man waiting at the tram stop intervenes, shouting at the officers that they’re overdoing it and briefly pushing one of them on the shoulder. He is quickly shoved up against an advertising hoarding and cuffed, and – he says – has pepper spray sprayed into his eyes despite making no attempt to resist arrest.
The man, Richard Frištenský, was interviewed by several reporters, and told TV Nova the arrest was just the beginning of his ordeal.
“I spent a total of eight hours in various prison cells, and enjoyed a very pleasant stay with the police. I was given the opportunity to strip naked, do various push ups, turn around in front of the camera. Then they took me to hospital to have my eyes cleaned from the pepper spray. Then they took me to the criminal police to be questioned. Finally they released me, at two am, in the rain. The whole experience has made me even happier to pay my taxes.“
Mr Frištenský – a burly charity worker who’s the distant nephew of a famous pre-war wrestler – now faces charges of assaulting a police officer, an offence that could see him sent to prison for up to four years. The officer claims Mr Frištenský punched him in the neck, sending him falling to the pavement – a claim that Mr Frištenský says is quickly dispelled by watching the video footage. He’s filing his own criminal complaint against the officer for false witness and police brutality.
The officers‘ actions have been defended by their superiors. The deputy head of the Prague City Police said Anděl was a notorious trouble spot and the officers were right to arrest people if they were drinking in public and harassing passers by. He would not comment on the arrest of Mr Frištenský but did say this – members of the public should certainly not feel like the police can persecute them at will, but if they see officers taking action it is certainly justified and they should not intervene under any circumstances.
Mr Frištenský obviously disputes that, and told TV Nova police officers bore a clear responsibility to act with restraint.
“People should help others, whether they’re police officers or anybody else. They should exercise their powers with common sense. The police have pistols, knives, all sorts of means at their disposal, and they should use them with professionalism. Rather than letting their emotions get the better of them and losing control.“
It’s hard to imagine a court sending Mr Frištenský to prison after watching the video of the incident, if the case even goes to trial. But the case has highlighted a fact of modern living that’s becoming increasingly relevant to Czech society; the power of smartphones and the internet to hold the authorities to account.