Rudolf Battek was fifty-nine on November 2. A prisoner of conscience, he marked this anniversary as he has so many others in a jail cell in Czechoslovakia. A sociologist and former member of the Czech parliament, Mr. Battek has a distinguished history of political activism. Like the man from the country in Kafka’s story “Before the Law,” he has always thought “the Law should be accessible at all times and to everyone.”
Employed in communal administration in 1956 when revolution in neighboring Hungary was brutally suppressed by troops of the Warsaw Pact nations, Rudolf Battek protested by refusing to take part in the Czech general elections. He was dismissed from his job in consequence and for the next four years worked as a laborer in a steel works, where he eventually became editor of the house magazine. From there he went on to the Sociological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and a job as a sociological researcher.
During the “Prague Spring” of 1968, Mr. Battek became deputy chairman of the Club of Committed Non-Party People (KAN) which was established in an attempt to create an alternative to one-party communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Between July 1968 and November 1969 he served as a member of the Czech National Council (the Czech national parliament).
After the Warsaw Pact tanks moved into Prague and crushed the brief flowering of Czech liberalization, Rudolf Battek cosigned the Ten Point Manifesto denouncing the occupation. That was his first encounter with the door-keeper of the Law: he was arrested and spent thirteen months in prison.
When elections were scheduled in 1971, Rudolf Battek wrote and distributed leaflets reminding people of their constitutional right to abstain from voting; he explained the legal procedure for doing this. Another knock on the door of the Law. This time Mr. Battek remained in prison for three and a half years. When he was released (and for the next nine years), he worked as a window-washer—the only employment permitted him.
Still he believed the Law should be accessible at all times and to everyone. And so in 1977 he signed the Charter 77 Manifesto calling on the Czech government to respect the human rights constitutionally guaranteed its citizens. He became one of the most active members in the newly burgeoning Czech human rights movement, joining the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS) at its founding in 1978 and becoming its official spokesman in January 1980.
During 1979 and early 1980, Rudolf Battek was arrested on four different occasions. Each time he was questioned, held for several days, and released. Between arrests, he continued his activities in the Committee for the Unjustly Persecuted. It was his task to maintain contact with the international socialist movement, and in this connection, along with several other Czech and Polish scholars, he wrote essays analyzing the political situation in those countries. They titled their collection “On Freedom and Power”: a third knock at the door of the Law.
Arrested in June 1980 and held for over a year in pretrial detention, Rudolf Battek was regularly denied appropriate medical care for the severe asthma attacks he suffered. His condition became so serious that his wife and other members of VONS undertook hunger strikes to protest his treatment. Finally he was admitted briefly to the prison hospital and permitted some visits with his family and an attorney.
In July 1981 Rudolf Battek was tried and sentenced to seven and one-half years’ imprisonment and three years’ “protective surveillance” for “causing bodily harm” and for “subversion.” The first charge referred to Mr. Battek’s allegedly having knocked off the cap of a police officer when he was being detained; the second charge—“subversion on a grand scale”—involved his contribution to the anthology of essays On Freedom and Power.
Several foreign governments and political parties protested immediately. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a communiqué deploring the Czech government’s lack of respect for the Helsinki Accords. Willy Brandt urged Mr. Battek’s release as did England’s Labour party and Belgium’s Communist party.
Rudolf Battek’s sentence was reduced on appeal to five and one-half years—for daring to write about freedom and power, five and one-half years in prison without either. Such are difficulties a man from the country of Kafka has come to expect, but still he believes the Law should be accessible at all times and to everyone. His recent birthday offers a chance for those who share Rudolf Battek’s belief to salute him. Appeals for his release should be addressed to
JuDr Gustav Husak
President of the CSSR
11 908 Praha-Hrad, CSSR
Barbara C. Sproul
Amnesty International, USA