Judge in 1951 trial to be charged

A long-retired judge, 86-year-old Pavel Vitek, is to be charged with murder for a verdict he passed 49 years ago. At the time, eleven people were sentenced to death and executed to serve as a warning to all who still resisted the communist domination of Czechoslovakia after the coup in 1948. Olga Szantova has the story.

The trial, in the summer of 1951, was one of the first and one of the biggest in a series of politically motivated trials in the early fifties. Their aim: to show that the class enemy was sabotaging the otherwise peaceful and successful construction of a socialist society and that harder measures were needed to protect the working class from the evils of capitalism. The communists faced serious problems in the countryside, where the more successful farmers were resisting the founding of cooperatives, and wanted to hold on to their farms. Southern Moravia, one of the most fertile areas in the country, was a particularly troublesome region and a village in that area, called Babice, was chosen as the site where the evils of the class enemy were to be demonstrated.

As the communist-led village council was meeting one day, a group of armed terrorists broke in, shooting three of the council's members dead. A number of villagers were soon arrested and charged with the shooting, among them the richest local farmer, Jan Plichta. Eleven of them were sentenced to death, including Jan Plichta. The case was widely publicized and served as an excuse for the harsh measures used in introducing socialism in the countryside.

One of the judges in the Babice trial was the now 86-year-old Pavel Vitek. Like other judges in other political trials of the '50s, he was instrumental in preparing the planned result of the investigation. He, like others, was given precise instructions as to how the trial should be conducted and what the verdict was to be. As a result, 11 innocent people were sentenced to death for the Babice shooting, and judge Pavel Vitek is now being charged with their murder.

His is to be the first trial of its kind. More than ten years after the fall of communist rule in this country, the legal system still hasn't found a way of dealing with these cases. A number of times investigations were started but discontinued before any actual charges could be made. In the Babice case, the minister of justice had to intervene before the Supreme Court ruled that the case should be brought to trial. It remains to be seen whether it will set a precedent.

Author: Olga Szantová
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