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Twenty Dissidents Reported Arrested Before Pilgrimmage

March 5, 1988

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Police arrested 20 Roman Catholic activists and other dissidents as church members prepared for a mass pilgrimage to Prague, an activist said Saturday.

Thousands of people were expected to converge on Prague’s St. Vitus cathedral Sunday for a mass to honor Blessed Agnes, a 13th Century Czech princess who is to be canonized by the Vatican later this year.

Petr Uhl, a member of the Charter 77 human rights movement, said the 20 were detained by police Friday evening in Prague and in Moravia. Seven were released after being held briefly Friday night and 13 were to be detained for 48 hours, he said.

Uhl said he believed the arrests were prompted by the pilgrimage.

Those jailed in Prague included dissident writer Vaclav Havel, Roman Catholic activists Vaclav Maly and Vaclav Benda, and Stanislav Devaty, a Charter 77 spokesman, Uhl said.

The numbers of police visible on Prague streets also was greater than normal on Saturday. Also, Czechoslovak television altered its programming for the day of the pilgrimage, announcing that a popular French movie would be telecast Sunday morning.

Czechoslovak radio explained the heavy police presence on highways in Bohemia and Moravia - the regions taking part in the pilgrimage - by saying that police had been ordered to carry out random technical inspections to cut down what it said was a high rate of automobile accidents.

The arrests came as a petition demanding more religious freedom is being circulated. An estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people are said to have signed the 31-point document.

Augustin Navratil, the author of the petition, which began circulating last December, was among the people jailed for 48 hours after being arrested at his home in a small Moravian village, Uhl said.

Other detentions took place outside the home of a British diplomat who had invited Charter 77 movement leaders and members of the banned cultural group, the Jazz Section, to meet a visiting official from London.

In London, the British Foreign Office said the Czechoslovak dissidents had been invited Friday night to the home of British Counselor John MacGregor to meet David Ratford, assistant undersecretary of state who was in Prague for consultations.

It said a Foreign Office official, David Mellor, protested the arrests ″in the strongest terms″ to Czechoslovak Counselor Roman Hronek.

The statement quoted Mellor as saying the arrests ″are wholly inconsistent with the professed desire of the Czech authorities to improve relations with Britain and with efforts towards greater openness elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

″They are a reminder of methods which belong to another age and can only undermine attempts ... to improve the level of confidence throughout Europe.″

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