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Havel Convicted, Sentenced to 9 Months

February 21, 1989

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Leading dissident Vaclav Havel was convicted Tuesday for his role in a banned rally and sentenced to nine months in jail in a trial that drew criticism at home, in the East bloc and the West.

In a six-hour trial, Judge Helena Hlavata found the world-renowned playwright guilty on charges of inciting citizens to take part in banned demonstrations and obstructing police officers.

Havel was taken into custody Jan. 16 after gatherings in central Prague, and his continued incarceration has sparked unprecedented calls for his release at home and abroad.

The prosecutor had demanded a one-year sentence for Havel and a fine of about $2,500. But Ms. Hlavata decreed a nine-month sentence, which Havel appealed, and said no fine was necessary.

Each time Havel was brought to the courtroom during three breaks in the trial, supporters kept in an adjacent stairwell by police yelled ″Long Live Havel 3/8″ and demanded his freedom. Western reporters outside the courtroom said at least three people were detained.

In another courtroom, seven other dissidents face hooliganism charges from their attempt to lay flowers Jan. 16 in memory of Jan Palach, a student who burned himself alive 20 years ago to protest the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. That trial was adjourned until Wednesday.

In a closing speech, Havel defiantly declared he was not guilty of inciting people to attend a commemoration Jan. 15 for Palach in Prague’s Wenceslas Square or of ignoring appeals to leave the square the next day.

″I do not feel guilty, but if punished, will accept the sentence as a sacrifice for a good cause, nothing in the light of the ultimate sacrifice of Jan Palach,″ Havel said.

He rejected what he said were prosecution attempts to label him ″anti- socialist and anti-state,″ saying these labels have ″lost any semantic meaning″ through overuse.

″In different stages of life, three general secretaries were labeled like this - Slansky, Husak and Dubcek,″ Havel said, referring to former Communist Party chiefs Rudolf Slansky, executed after a show trial in the 1950s; current President Gustav Husak; and Alexander Dubcek, who headed the ″Prague Spring″ reforms of 1968 but was replaced by Husak in 1969.

Havel, a founder of the Charter 77 human rights movement who has spent four years in jail after being convicted of sedition, said the movement always had sought peaceful dialogue with the authorities.

″Warning voices of this kind were not listened to, and today the present power harvests what it has sown, the fruit of its proud attitude,″ he said.

Among the two dozen people in the tiny, drab courtroom were Havel’s wife, Olga; his brother, Ivan; and Ivan’s wife, Dasha. The only journalists were four Czechoslovak reporters, a Soviet reporter and a correspondent from The Associated Press.

The family, which has not been allowed to visit Havel in jail, was granted a five-minute chat after sentencing. Ivan Havel said his brother was ″touched by the support″ he has received inside and outside Czechoslovakia .

Seven witnesses were called, including plainclothes police officer Maj. Peter Zak, who said he had seen Havel around the square before arresting him.

The prosecution argued on the charge of obstructing police officers that Havel failed to obey warnings to leave the square. Several hundred had formed there Jan. 16 after the other dissidents were arrested for trying to lay the flowers.

Until August, when 10,000 people marched in Prague on the 20th anniversary of the 1968 invasion, there had been no mass protests in the city for 19 years.

Seven of the other dissidents on trial are members of Charter 77 and other independent groups formed in the last year in what activists say is a sign of the increasing dissatisfaction and thirst for reform in Czechoslovakia. An eighth, Dana Nemcova, is hospitalized and will be tried separately.

The case against Havel on the incitement charge centered on an appeal broadcast via Western radio stations after he received an anonymous letter on Jan. 9. The letter purported to be from a group of students who said they would use a commemoration for Palach Jan. 15 to repeat his act of self- immolation.

Havel argued he had a responsibility to dissuade anyone from such an action and said he telephoned the appeal to the Western radio stations after his efforts to get it on Czechoslovak state TV failed.

Ms. Hlavata read transcripts from Radio Free Europe and the British Broadcasting Corp. to support the prosecution case.

A crowd of 5,000 people gathered Jan. 15 on Wenceslas Square and was broken up by riot police using batons, tear gas, water cannons and dogs.

Other demonstrations occurred that week in Prague at the same time Czechoslovakia had committed itself to new human rights accords at a Helsinki conference in Vienna.

The International Helsinki Federation, whose representatives from the United States and Austria were denied permission to attend the trial, said Havel’s jailing contravened the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the Vienna accords.

In Hungary, where the Communist Party has legalized independent groups, the official Writers’ Union protested Havel’s detention in a public letter.

In Czechoslovakia, more than 2,000 intellectuals, some of them party members, signed a petition calling for his release.

The banned, rightist Confederation for an Independent Poland organized a rally that drew about 1,000 people to the main square of Krakow, Poland, to hear speeches supporting Havel, said Robert Bogdanski, a spokesman for the Solidarity Information Service. He said authorities detained four people.

The West German government condemned Havel’s sentencing, saying it violates the spirit of recent human rights accords.

Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson said in a statement in Stockholm that the sentencing indicates Czechoslovak authorities ″don’t respect the commitments they have made regarding human rights.″

Karel Kyncl of the London-based monthly magazine Index on Censorship said on British Broadcasting Corp. TV news: ″It’s turning the clock back to Stalinism.″

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