Will I Be on Television?

[The following account by a Czech philosopher, one of the spokesmen for Charter 77, describes a form of harassment that is widespread in Czechoslovakia today. Whenever a sensitive public event like a political trial is to take place, the regime briefly arrests people it considers dangerous.

The police disguise such detainment as “interrogation”—they play the game of apparent legality, however shoddily. According to the law concerning the uniformed police corps, you may be held for questioning to “explain” a felony, to provide evidence as a witness, or as a direct suspect. Article 15 mentioned by Hejdánek concerns the first type of interrogation and requires that you be summoned in writing and told what felony is involved.

But as the account makes clear, the police no longer take the trouble to observe even the rudimentary protocol defined by the law, nor are they much interested in actually questioning their victim. The real point of the exercise is to isolate, degrade, and intimidate him and—now that they are equipped with the latest technological aids—to videotape the “interrogation” against his will.]

It began as usual. At one PM on Friday—the day the Supreme Court decision on Aleš Machácek and Vladimír Laštuvka 1 was to be handed down—the STB came to pick me up at work. “Well, off we go again, Mr. Hejdánek. Of course you know the routine by now.”

I asked the gentlemen to show me a written summons, but they didn’t have one. They said an oral summons was enough and then rattled off a formal command for me to appear, etc., according to the article of the law concerning the National Security Corps. I asked what it was about and they said I’d find out soon enough. In other words, it was an irregular summons. I had always appeared before in response to written summonses. Why, I asked, had they taken to using these extraordinary and unlawful procedures? Moreover, I pointed out that I worked until 3:30 and since they had never once recompensed me for the loss of pay this incurred, though I had always requested it, I told them I wouldn’t leave before 3:30. I also wanted to call home, but they wouldn’t allow it.

When it was clear that they weren’t to be put off, I told them they could repeat the same business they had gone through with Mr. Tomín,2 if that was what they wanted. And so they grabbed me, pulled me along the corridor and down the stairs, dragged me across the courtyard on my back, and started shoving me rather roughly into the waiting car.

It was here that I committed my first lapse. I had been determined not to utter a word, for what had impressed me most about Tomín’s comportment was his silence. I wanted to see whether I was up to it too. But to my shame I held out for only about two minutes. Then I pointed out to the puffing officers that I’d lost a…

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