Communist MP Josef Vondruska stripped of immunity to face criminal charges

Josef Vondruska, photo: CTK

The Chamber of Deputies stripped Communist MP Josef Vondruska of immunity on Wednesday. Mr Vondruska will now face criminal charges in connection with his job as a prison guard in 1980s. Several political prisoners who served their jail time under Mr. Vondruska have accused him of brutality and abuse of power. The case will now be investigated by the police and Mr Vondruska could go to prison for up to ten years.

Josef Vondruska, photo: CTK
The Chamber of Deputies has lifted the immunity of Josef Vondruska, a 59-year-old deputy for the Communist Party who will now be investigated by the police for his actions as a prison guard in the 1980s. Several former dissidents, including Vladimir Hucin, Jiri Gruntorad and Jiri Wolf, who were sentenced to prison on political charges at that time, have accused Mr Vondruska of brutality and maltreatment of prisoners.

During a debate in the lower house on Wednesday preceding the vote on whether the Communist MP should be released for criminal investigation, Mr Vondruska denied having broken the law when he was a prison warden.

"I worked with responsibility and good faith, just like hundreds of thousands of other people. I carried out work that is indispensable for the state at any time and is today, as well. I did not break any laws in my job, and I did not commit the deeds I have been accused of."

In the end, 151 MPs voted for the lifting of Mr Vondruska's immunity, while his Communist Party colleagues left the assembly and did not vote at all.

Josef Vondruska got a job at a glass factory in Minkovice, just outside Liberec, North Bohemia, at the age of 15. It manufactured crystal chandeliers, one of the principal export articles of communist Czechoslovakia, and was often understaffed due to the difficult working conditions. In the late 1950s, a prison camp was established on the factory premises to supply it with labour. In 1972, Mr Vondruska joined the penitentiary corps, and worked as a prison warden there for the next 18 years. Former prisoners today say he was very aggressive and rarely missed an opportunity to brutally punish prisoners for the slightest breaches of prison rules.

Cestmir Cejka
Cestmir Cejka, an official of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, comments on Wednesday's lower house vote.

"For the Confederation of Political Prisoners, this act is understandable because we were expecting no other decision from a democratic state. Now it is up to the investigators to prove that Mr Vondruska did what he has been accused of. I am a little more worried about the latter, as the procedures tend to be very complicated. But for our part we do not have any doubt that Mr Vondruska behaved as described."

Josef Vondruska is the first current Communist politician to be stripped of his immunity in connection with activities before 1989.