Prisoners of Conscience
Source: The New York Review of Books www.nybooks.com /
Václav Havel, Jan Brabec, Ivan Lamper, David Nemec, and Petr Placak, et al.
To the Editors:
Ivan Jirous, a former prisoner of conscience, and Jirí Tichý are in pretrial detention after being arrested in connection with a petition critical of the CSSR government. They have both been charged with “grossly insulting or slandering a state organ” under Article 154/2 of the penal code. Jirí Tichý has in addition been charged with “damaging the interests of the republic abroad” (Article 112). Jirí Tichý is aged forty and is also a signer of the Charter 77 movement.
Your readers may be interested in the following open letter that is being circulated on their behalf. Prague, Czechoslovakia November 14, 1988 Dear Friends,
Ivan Jirous and Jirí Tichý have been arrested in October of this year for protesting the increasingly repressive measures taken by the Czechoslovak authorities, which have so far culminated in the still unclarified death of Pavel Wonka, a prisoner of conscience. This is not the only legal action taken against critically thinking citizens in our country, but the case of Ivan Jirous, an art historian, journalist, and poet, the father of two young children, is especially alarming. If totalitarian forces succeed in sending Ivan Jirous to prison this will mean that he will spend years among murderers and other violent people in the worst of all Czechoslovak prisons, at Valdice.
Jirous has already been imprisoned four times for his free expression and for his extensive activities in unofficial culture. Of the last fifteen years, he spent eight in prison. Most recently, he was imprisoned at Valdice for three and a half years. After his release he was subject to “protective supervision” by the police (a form of probation), and it was only with great difficulty that he was able to adjust to normal life again, after the time he had spent with violent criminals. If he will now be sentenced for the fifth time, this will mean not only another blow to his mental integrity, and of course his artistic work, but it will be a threat to his very life. The place that Ivan Jirous has in the spiritual and art world of contemporary Czechoslovakia is absolutely irreplaceable!
Ivan Martin Jirous was born just before the end of World War II, on September 23, 1944, in the town of Humpolec, which is found in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands. In 1969 he graduated from Charles University in Prague with a degree in the history of art. For a brief time he worked as one of the editors of the magazine Výtvarná práce (Art Work), where he devoted his attention to modern art. The magazine soon became a victim of the “normalization” period after the Soviet invasion of 1968 and Jirous lost his job; he continued to earn his livelihood as a worker.
The official cultural policy of Czechoslovakia in the Seventies provided less and less freedom for any spontaneous activities and free artistic creativity. It was Ivan Jirous who was the initiator, organizer, and qualified exponent of independent culture which was coming into existence at the time. He was in the center of most counter-culture activities, he organized various musical festivals, which provided opportunities for the playing of independent musical groups, he edited samizdat collections, started the publication of the journal Vokno (Window), and devoted his energies to the visual art which had been expelled from the galleries into private studios. Jirous is known, both in this country and abroad, as the first theoretician of Czechoslovak independent culture and one of the creators of the independent spiritual climate of the Seventies and Eighties.
At the beginning of the Seventies he became the artistic head of the rock group The Plastic People of the Universe, which during the long years of its existence has become a living symbol of independent culture in Czechoslovakia. It was the absurd persecution of this group by the government authorities in 1976 and the imprisonment of Ivan Jirous and other members of the group, that provided the direct impetus for the founding of a Czechoslovak movement for adherence to the Helsinki agreement—the Charter 77.
Jirous is also highly respected as a poet. In 1986 he was awarded the Tom Stoppard Prize for his collection of poems, “Magorovy labutí písne” (“Magor’s Swan Songs”), which he wrote in the terrible Valdice prison.
Dear friends, please help us to free Ivan Jirous from prison!
Jan Brabec, Václav Havel,
Ivan Lamper, David Nemec,
Petr Placák, Joska Skalník,
Amnesty International knows of numerous instances in which the Czechoslovakian government has imprisoned individuals because of their expression of politically “unacceptable” views. Tomas Dvorák, Lubomir Vydra, and Hana Marvanova, for instance, who are all active in the independent peace movement, are being held for “incitement,” as are Jirí Bohac and Viktor Dedera; others such as Petr Cibulka, Petr Hauptmann, Michael Keller, Vladan Koci, Antonin Pernicky, Ivan Polansky, Jaroslav Popelka, Josef Romer, Zdenek Sila, and Jirí Wolf, have been imprisoned under charges ranging from “treason” (Article 91) to “defaming a nation, race and conviction” (Article 198) and “frustrating the execution of an official decision” (Article 171).
Amnesty International believes that all these people are imprisoned in violation of their right to free expression as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the CSSR government has ratified. Amensty is therefore calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all of these prisoners of conscience. Barbara Sproul
New York City