Czechoslovak regime tries to stifle dissent

Czechoslovak human-rights protesters have resorted to a hunger strike in an effort to gain the release of one of the country's "prisoners of conscience," Rudolf Battek.

A sociologist and historian -- and, after an earlier arrest, a window cleaner -- Mr. Battek has been under police detention since last June without charges being formally preferred.

He is 1 of some 20 Czechoslovaks imprisoned because they either refuse to renounce their support of the 1968 reform movement or have been involved in protest activity based on Charter 77 -- th e January 1977 declaration by 1,000 signatories against political oppression and social discrimination on political grounds.

Mr. Battek is typical of still more people who, in the last few years, have been victims of intensified police harassment, interrogation, and repeated brief detention as the regime has tried to stifle the reform movement.Some have been persuaded to emigrate to the West. Once there, they have seen their passports and citizenship revoked.

Last autumn, scores were rounded up following a new Charter 77 statement. This came out in support of the Polish strikers and their Solidarity union movement and included an appeal to the Madrid review conference on the 1975 Helsinki accords on human rights and East-West detente.

Mr. Battek's wife, Dagmar, initiated the hunger strike in mid-January after being informed by the state prosecutor that her husband's detention was being extended for investigation of allegations against him of antistate activity back in 1979.

The law stipulates 48 hours as the legal time limit on police detention without indictment. But this can be extended virtually at the whim of the prosecutor by a statement to a magistrate sitting in private that the prosecutor requires more time to complete the case.

Mrs. Battek's health compelled her to give up the strike after a few days. Her place was immediately taken by another Charter 77 signatory. A roster of others has been established to maintain the protest action until Mr. Battek is free or brought to trial.

Mr. Battek had been in conflict with the authorities ever since the present regime displaced the reform leadership of Alexander Dubcek in mid-1969. He was arrested in November that year as coauthor of a manifesto condemning the Soviet intervention and the subsequent "normalizaton" process, i.e., condemning the total dismantling of the reforms of the 1968 "Prague spring."

He was detained until October 1970, rearrested a year later, and in July 1972 sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of "subversion."

On release in mid-1974, he got work as a window cleaner, but thereafter was frequently detained. Last June he was arrested following an incident at a police station in which apparently a policeman's hat was knocked off and Battek charged with "assaulting a public official."

This itself could bring a three-year sentence. The charge against him apparently was later broadened to include the old "subversion."

In September it was reported that he had been ordered to undergo prolonged psychiatric examination to determine whether he should be submitted to treatment or was fit to stand trial. He remains in prison.

Young and old, intellectuals, journalists, workers and priests and church laymen alike have been caught up in the regime's continuous use of harassment of various kinds, sometimes brutal, to intimidate or snuff out dissent from any quarter.

Typical of those involved in the autumn drive against suspected sympathies with the Polish unions was the septuagenarian Gertrude Sekaninova-Cakrtova, the widow of a lawyer who took part in the defense of the Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov in the Nazi's Reichstag fire trial in 1933.

In October 1968 she was 1 of only 4 members of the Czechoslovak parliament who stubbornly voted against legalizing the "temporary" stationing of Soviet troops in the country.

Others included in the fall roundup come from the younger generation -- like 21-year-old Petr Pospichal, a printer from Brno. He had been jailed in 1978 for distributing Charter 77 leaflets and as the irrepressible leader of an outlawed pop group calling itself "Plastic People of the Universe."

Better-known "prisoners of conscience" currently serving substantial court sentences are four of the six defendants convicted in the last major "antistate" trial, in October 1979. Among them is dramatist Vaclav Havel, whose "theater of the absurd" made him the country's foremost playwright in the brilliant "wave" of the '60s in Czechoslovak arts and won acclaim in many of Western Europe's most exacting theaters. He is serving a 4 1/2 year term and reportedly has rejected release offers conditional on his leaving the country.

His codefendants indluced former foreign correspondent Jiri Dienstbier, three years; Vaclav Benda, mathematician and computer programmer (and, after his protests, a stoker), four years; and -- sitting out the longest term of all, five years -- engineer and one-time student leader Peter Uhl. In the early '70s , the latter had four years for trying to form a new "socialist" party.

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