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Activist Stuns Courtroom With Prayer

October 20, 1988

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ A judge in Czechoslovakia abruptly cleared a courtroom after a Roman Catholic activist recited a prayer during a hearing for four people arrested for taking part in a demonstration for religious freedom, a news agency said.

The appeals court in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, upheld the sentences of the four activists, the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress said Wednesday.

In the original trial, activists Bernadetta Ostrubova, Martin Pavlicko, Stanislav Kopcek and Ludmilla Heribanova had been sentenced to two months imprisonment and fines of $200 for taking part in the March 25 demonstration.

Proceedings against another activist, Miroslav Toth, were adjourned, Kathpress said without giving other details.

A large number of supporters assembled in and around Bratislava’s Palace of Justice but only about ten people were allowed to attend the hearing, Kathpress said.

At the start of proceedings, the judge reportedly said it was prohibited to pray in the courtroom.

According to Kathpress, Ms. Ostrubova, at the end of proceedings, was asked whether she wanted to make a final statement. She reportedly responded with the Lord’s Prayer.

Those in the courtroom were taken aback, Kathpress quoted an eyewitness as saying, and the judge ordered the premises cleared.

As she left the courtoom, Ms. Ostrubova was loudly cheered by her supporters and given flowers.

Kathpress said several activists were held at police headquarters for several hours to prevent them from attending the court session.