Czechoslovakia cracks down on dissent

The police woke up Hana Marvanova at 6 a.m. and arrested her. The charges? Distributing ``illegal'' texts. As Mikhail Gorbachev urges respect for opposing viewpoints in the Soviet Union, his communist allies in Czechoslovakia are cracking down on dissent. Since that morning of Oct. 28, Ms. Marvanova, a leader of the Independent Peace Association, has remained in jail, facing a five-year prison term.

``The repression suddenly has worsened,'' says Petr Uhl, leader of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Prague regime took advantage of the deterioration of East-West relations to blacklist, harass, and sentence dissidents to long prison terms. Mr. Uhl spent nine years behind bars. But after Mr. Gorbachev came to power, Czechoslovakia's human rights record began to improve. A year ago, Uhl and other well-known dissidents said they were left pretty much free to carry on their dissident activities.

The tone changed this August, after police arrested the young organizers of a demonstration marking the 20th anniversary of the 1968 Soviet invasion.

``The August demonstration gave them a big scare,'' says opposition activist Rita Klimonava. ``People are less afraid and the authorities are more afraid.''

Before the 70th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence on Oct. 28, police rounded up 128 people to prevent a planned demonstration. The protest took place anyhow.

Most of the arrested were released a few days later, but according to Uhl, nine activists remain in jail. One other, the courageous Roman Catholic activist Augustin Navratil, has been committed to a mental asylum. This move comes at a time that even the Soviet Union is desisting from abusing psychiatry for political purposes.

``It's obvious, the police go after Marvanova to scare the youth and Mr. Navratil to scare the Catholics,'' a Western diplomat says. ``These people are symbols.''

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