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Free the Czechs

To the Editors:

In the spring of 1979 these eleven men and women, all professionals and leaders in the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia, were arrested: Otta Bednarova—journalist, television editor; Jarmila Belikova—psychologist; Dr. Vaclav Benda—philosopher, mathematician, Charter ‘77 spokesman; Albert Cerny—actor; Jiri Dienstbier—journalist, broadcaster, Charter ‘77 spokesman, Vaclav Havel—playwright, Charter ‘77 spokesman, co-founder of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS); Dr. Ladislav Lis—attorney; Vaclav Maly—Catholic priest; Dana Nemcova—psychologist; Dr. Jiri Nemec—psychologist, philosopher; Petr Uhl—engineer, economist.

The activists are members of Charter ‘77, the group formed in 1977 to evaluate the Czechoslovak government’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations under domestic law, the Helsinki Accords, and other international agreements. All are also members of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS), a Charter subgroup, organized in 1978 to “monitor the cases of people who have become victims of arbitrary actions by the police or judiciary.” The majority of the more than 1,000 Charter signers have been dismissed from their jobs or subjected to continuous harassment since the group’s human rights manifesto was first published in 1977.

The eleven were charged with “subversion” under Article 98 of the Czechoslovak Penal Code. On October 22, Otta Bednarova, Vaclav Benda, Jiri Dienstbier, Vaclav Havel, Dana Nemcova, and Petr Uhl were tried on this charge. On October 23, all six were found guilty and received varying sentences up to five years.

Their detention by the Czechoslovak government, in violation of both the Helsinki Accords and the International Covenants, offers further proof of the pattern of human rights abuses which motivated the formation of the Charter two years ago.

We—the members of PEN American Center and the US Helsinki Watch Committee—call for the release of these eleven men and women. We call on the government of Czechoslovakia to honor its international commitments by allowing its citizens to play an active role in the protection of their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

We call on the governments and citizens of all the Helsinki states to join with us in our efforts to obtain the release of these imprisoned Czechoslovak human rights activists.

Edward Albee

Dr. Christian Anfinsen

Dore Ashton

Patricia Barnes

Donald Barthelme

Eric Bentley

Robert L. Bernstein

Bruno Bitker

Jose Cabranes

Earl Callen

John Carey

Joseph Chaikin

Dr. Kenneth Clark

Robert Crichton

Adrian DeWind

E.L. Doctorow

Frances Farenthold

Bernard Fischman

Frances Fitzgerald

Paul Flory

Hon. Marvin Frankel

Don Fraser

Allen Ginsberg

Dr. Willard Gaylin

Dr. Alfred Freedman

Jack Greenberg

John Gutfreund

Nat Hentoff

Lawrence Hughes

Karen Kennerly

Edward Kline

Winthrop Knowlton

Jerzy Kosinski

Jeri Laber

John D. Leonard

Leon Lipson

Bernard Malamud

Robert McKay

Arthur Miller

Toni Morrison

Daniel Nathans

Aryeh Neier

Osgood Nichols

Joseph Papp

Barbara Scott Preiskel

Philip Roth

Kirkpatrick Sale

Oscar Schachter

Orville Schell

Alan Schwartz

Richard Sennett

Harvey Shapiro

Jerome Shestack

Beverly Sills

Susan Sontag

Michael Sovern

Rose Styron

Willaim Styron

Diana Trilling

Kurt Vonnegut

Robert Penn Warren

Glenn Watts

Michael Weller

Jerome Wiesner

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