Czechoslovak police have begun a new drive to break up one of the new channels of intellectual dissent lingering on from 1968. Their target is the small but effective study groups initiated by well-known academics sacked in the purge that followed the crackdown on Alexander Dubcek's liberal regime in 1968. Many members of the groups are students excluded from higher education because of their parents' involvement with the reform movement.
Last weekend the police raided the best known of these groups, conducted for the past year in the Prague home of Prof. Julius Tomin, a philosopher of international repute with a doctorate from the city's historic, 600-year-old Charles University.
The professor has not been allowed to teach for 12 years.
The police broke during the evening of March 8 just as a Canadian-born Oxford don from Balliol College, Dr. William Newton-Smith, had begun a lecture as a guest speaker. Dr. Tomin had appealed to four universities last year for concrete gestures of support for the numerous academic and scholastic victims of the purges of 1969 and the early '70s.
Dr. Newton-Smith was forcibly removed from the apartment, interrogated at police headquarters till nearly midnight -- apparently in an attempt to get him to incriminate Professor Tomin -- and then taken by car in a three-hour drive to the Czech border, where he was thrust over the barrier into West Germany.
Back in Prague, Dr. Tomin was threatened with arrest, though he seems successfully to have challenged the police either to produce a warrant or to state a charge; they could do neither. He subsequently was summoned to police headquarters for further interrogation.
In another development, a British student was detained after police broke into an apartment in Prague March 12, interrupting the philosophy lecture a Professor Palous was giving to a group of about 25 students. Angus Cargill, the British student, was later released and ordered to leave Czechoslovakia the next day.
The raid that ended Professor Newton-Smit's lecture was the second such action against a visiting Western intellectual at the Tomin study group. This group, together with others in Prague and elsewhere, is known as "Patocka University," after the late philosopher, Prof. Jan Patocka, an initial spokesman of the Charter 77 human-rights movement launched in Prague three years ago.
Last fall, Norwegian economics professor Thorleif Rafto was similarly detained at Dr. Tomin's home, interrogated, and expelled, with a threat of further sanctions should be ever return to Czechoslovakia.
Less has been heard of Charter 77 since the Prague regime dealt it a serious blow last October by jailing dramatist Vaclav Havel and four other leading activists on charges of antistate activity.
These convictions, in fact, silenced the last of the charter's well-known spokesmen and the authors of its carefully documented indictments of the government's flouting of the human-rights undertakings to which it is pledged under the Helsinki Declaration of 1975.
Dr. Tomin and his friend were charter signatories who have been objects of continued harassment because of their refusal to be silent. His own study group consisted of some young people who have been discriminated against educationally because of their parents' support of the charter.
He himself is one of the many intellectuals and professional people -- in journalism, the theater, etc. -- who have been forced into a variety of ordinary laboring jobs since the post-Dubcek purges. He has worked as a turbine operator and night watchman. At present he is the boiler man for the block in which he, his wife, and two sons have their home.
Dr. Tomin is an acknowledged authority on such philosophers as Aristotle and Plato -- and is known for his unyielding and passionate defense of scientific and intellectual freedoms generally. In this cause he was aroused widespread sympathy in West European universities with promises of visits by lecturers to the study and cultural groups that maintain a clandestine but vigorous activity as part of the Czech intellectual underground.
The latest police moves seem to signal an endeavor to cut off these embarrassing international links.