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.
Dr. Christian Anfinsen
Robert L. Bernstein
Dr. Kenneth Clark
Hon. Marvin Frankel
Dr. Willard Gaylin
Dr. Alfred Freedman
John D. Leonard
Barbara Scott Preiskel
Robert Penn Warren
December 6, 1979