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American Doctors Perform First-Ever Autopsy in Czechoslovakia

May 9, 1988

BOSTON (AP) _ Two American physicians have been allowed to perform an autopsy on a political activist and visit a jailed dissident in Czechoslovakia, apparently the first time a Soviet-bloc country has agreed to such concessions.

The doctors, part of the Somerville-based Physicians for Human Rights, performed an autopsy last Wednesday on Pavel Wonka, a 35-year-old imprisoned dissident who died April 26. Wonka had been arrested in 1986 for his political activities, among them running for office, human rights officials said.

Jonathan Fine, executive director of the Somerville organization, said the Czech government allowed the American doctors into the country after they requested permission to perform an autopsy.

In January, one American doctor from the group visited Czechoslovakia in the hope of meeting with Wonka but it could not be arranged at that time, Fine said.

Fine said the Czech government did not explain why they allowed the doctors into the country but ″it’s speculated″ that because Czech officials had already completed an autopsy on Wonka, they believed they had nothing to hide.

Both Fine and the Helsinki Watch human rights monitoring organization in New York said they believed no other Soviet-bloc country had permitted American physicians such access.

Doctors Robert S. Lawrence and Robert H. Kirschner, who performed the autopsy, said they found no evidence of torture or beatings and said the probable cause of death was pulmonary emboli, or blood clots on the lung.

But Fine said it was unusual for a 35-year-old man to die from the disorder and speculated that harsh prison conditions may have contributed to Wonka’s death.

After performing the autopsy, the two doctors also spent 90 minutes with Jiri Wolf, 36, who is serving a prison term of undetermined length on charges of slander against the state.

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