Five sentenced in "Asanace" case

Vlastimil Tresnak and Jan Ruml, Photo: CTK

Five members of the communist era secret police the StB and officials from the communist Interior Ministry were sentenced in Prague earlier this week for abuse of office in cases that date back more than 20 years. In the 1970s and 80s, they organised a campaign code-named "Asanace" or "Clearance" to force anti-Communist dissidents to leave the country. Pavla Horakova has the story.

On Monday, two former members of the StB Communist secret police Zbynek Dudek and Jiri Simak were sentenced to three years in jail for torture of dissidents during the 'Asanance' operation. On Tuesday, three top officials of the communist Interior Ministry and the secret police the Vladimir Starek, Zdenek Wiederlechner and Oldrich Mezl received suspended sentences for giving orders in the operation.

Vladimir Starek, Photo: CTK
Agents of the feared secret police put extreme pressure on the dissidents, threatened and intimidated them and often used physical violence. Those who fled under the pressure included the writer and current chief rabbi Karol Sidon, musicians Jaroslav Hutka and Vlastimil Tresnak. Former dissident Zina Freundova was brutally attacked by the two men sentenced on Monday and she was among those who left Czechoslovakia, afraid the violence would get even worse.

"In my case the pressure culminated one night in October 1981. I was alone in my flat in Prague and at 2.30 am three agents forced their way in and viciously attacked me and tried to rape me. I need to emphasise here that during my interrogations by the StB, I was offered many times to go to exile. I always turned this offer down, I never wanted to leave this country."

Zina Freundova realised then that she had no other option, the secret police had almost unlimited power.

"What they made clear to me that night was that they operated with absolute impunity, they were free to do whatever they liked and we had no place or no one to appeal to. They understood that there would be no consequence for them. On the contrary, they were awarded and praised for their diligence. After my testimony during the trial, they had an absolute loss of memory. For instance, my interrogator had the gall to say that he had never ever in his life interrogated me, let alone attacked me. "

Vlastimil Tresnak and Jan Ruml, Photo: CTK
Some say the Czech authorities have been slow to prosecute crimes committed during the Communist regime. Former dissidents welcome the outcome of this week's trials, but many say it's too little, too late. Zina Freundova again.

"The trials have been a painful process. Before they started, I was afraid that I would be humiliated again and the crime might not be even acknowledged. Acknowledgment seemed enough for me. But after experiencing the arrogance of the accused, I have come to the conclusion that their crimes should not only be acknowledged but also punished. I would like to stress here that people are responsible for their action."