Trial begins of former prosecutor who helped send female Czech politician to gallows

U pražského městského soudu začalo hlavní líčení s Ludmilou Brožovou-Polednovou, foto: ČTK

On Tuesday a court in Prague began hearing the case against Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, the last living participant in one of the most notorious show trials of communist-era Czechoslovakia. In 1950, Mrs Brozova-Polednova was a 29-year-old prosecutor who helped condemn the democratic politician Milada Horakova to death. Now 86, she is being tried as an accomplice to murder. Radio Prague's Rob Cameron has this report.

Milada Horakova was tried for treason and espionage in June, 1950. A recording of her trial was lost for decades, hidden away by the communists because it proved that Milada Horakova had not been broken by her interrogators as the regime's propaganda claimed. She remained, she told her accusers, true to the principles of Masaryk's democratic republic.

Among those accusers was Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, then a 29-year-old "workers' prosecutor", today an 86-year-old pensioner. In 1950 she alone among the prosecutors on the case recommended "absolute punishment" - i.e. the death penalty - for Milada Horakova and three co-defendants, on trumped up charges of forming an imperialist fifth column that plotted to overthrow the people's democracy of Czechoslovakia. Frantisek Sedivy, the deputy chairman of the Federation of Czech Political Prisoners, had this to say to Czech Television:

Photo: CTK
"It's regrettable that this is only now being investigated, that only now is she appearing before court. She should have stood there a long time ago, so that for the rest of her life she would realise what she had done, and just what she had been a part of."

Ludmila Brozova-Polednova did not, as expected, appear in court on Tuesday, requesting that the trial continue in her absence. "I'm almost blind," she said in a note to the judge. "I can't speak and I wouldn't even make it to the courtroom."

They were the words of an old, frail woman, albeit one who denies any wrongdoing. "I was fighting for my country and for a social order where no-one would be out of work," is how she defended her actions when tracked down by journalists.

But other words were heard in court on Tuesday. They included the contents of a note written by an anonymous eye-witness to Milada Horakova's execution. "Don't break her neck on the noose," it quotes Mrs Brozova-Polednova as saying. "Suffocate the bitch - and the others too."

Milada Horakova's execution 57 years ago was the death knell for the rule of law in Czechoslovakia, and a harbinger of things to come under communism. Now, 57 years later, the state is making a belated attempt to bring those responsible to justice.