Stories of Injustice Day 2021| The same stories, only different names

Every year, in connection with the Remembrance Day for Victims of the Communist Regime, which is observed on the sad anniversary of the execution of Milada Horakova, we and our students pay homage to the victims of Communist injustice and opponents of the Communist regime. It is partly because of the stand they took and their actions that we have freedom and democracy today.

The year’s motto – The same stories, only different names – draws attention to the similarity of the fate suffered by opponents of Communism in Czechoslovakia and the stories of people who are currently pushing for human rights, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law in the post-Soviet states.  

From the examples provided below, it is obvious that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes continue to manifest themselves in the same illegal, aggressive, and inhumane way. And just like in the past, there are stories of brave men and women who stand up to them.

If you want to express your support for individuals facing persecution, please add your name to our letter.

 

You can turn on English subtitles directly in the video.  

Jan Palach

(1948–1969)

Student; self-immolated in protest against the passive...
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Jan Palach

(1948–1969)
Student; self-immolated in protest against the passive approach of the public following the occupation of Czechoslovakia. 
 
Jan Palach was a student at the Charles University Faculty of Arts. He self-immolated on 16 January 1969 in protest against the suppression of freedom and the passive approach of the public after Czechoslovakia was occupied by the armies of the Warsaw Pact member states.
 
Jan was born in Prague and grew up in the town of Všetaty. In 1967 he began attending the University of Economics, and one year later also began to study history at the Charles University Faculty of Arts. His friends from that time recall that he became an enthusiastic supporter of the reform politics and changes that started to gain ground in January 1968 and led to the Prague Spring.
 
After the August 1968 invasion, the situation in the country continued to deteriorate. In November 1968, he participated in a student strike that demanded that the post-August regime should respect human rights and honour the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The strike was unsuccessful and, according to witnesses, Palach took this result very hard. He complained not only about the political resignation but also about that of society. At that time, he apparently concluded that it was time for a more radical protest.
 
On 16 January 1969, Jan bought several litres of petrol at a station in Opletalova Street and proceeded to Wenceslas Square. There, beneath the ramp leading to the National Museum, he doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire at about half past two in the afternoon. He was taken to the hospital in Legerova Street with severe burns. While still conscious, Jan Palach confirmed that his self-immolation was because of the political situation. “People must fight against the evil they feel equal to at that moment,” he said before he died on the afternoon of 19 January 1969.
 
 
 

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Irina Slavina, Russia

(1973–2020)

Journalist; self-immolated in protest against harassment by...
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Irina Slavina, Russia

(1973–2020)

Journalist; self-immolated in protest against harassment by the Russian authorities and police.

Irina Slavina taught Russian and Russian literature in Nizhny Novgorod before deciding to become a journalist. In 2015, she established her own news portal – Koza Press – which brought “uncensored news from Nizhny Novgorod and the surrounding area”. Her website, financed chiefly through contributions, became one of the most popular independent news sources in the region. However, the local authorities soon started to view Irina’s journalistic activities as a thorn in their side. The journalist faced persecution and increasing pressure from the national security forces. The persecution included high penalties for such things as “a lack of respect for the authorities” in one of her articles. The intimidation peaked in autumn 2020, when the security forces forced their way into her flat. She said: “They took whatever they found – all the flash disks, my laptop, my daughter’s laptop, computers, phones – not only mine but also my husband’s, as well as several notebooks I used to take notes during press conferences. I remained completely without resources.” 

According to her friends and colleagues, Irina was a calm, honourable, and self-confident woman who could not stand injustice and wanted to make her city and her country a better place to live in. On 2 October 2020, she wrote on her Facebook profile: “Please blame the Russian Federation for my death.” A few minutes later, she self-immolated in front of the regional offices of the Ministry of the Interior in Nizhny Novgorod. In February 2021, the Russian authorities refused – for the third time – to launch an investigation into Irina Slavina’s death.
 

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Stefan Kiripolsky

(1914–1992)

Reporter; kidnapped by Soviet occupation forces in Austria...
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Stefan Kiripolsky

(1914–1992)

Reporter; kidnapped by Soviet occupation forces in Austria in 1954 and taken to Czechoslovakia; he was subjected to interrogations that involved cruelty and torture for a year and a half, and subsequently sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

Stefan Kiripolsky was a reporter for the Viennese branch of Radio Free Europe (RFE), was kidnapped by Soviet occupation forces in 1954 and taken from Austria to Czechoslovakia.

Stefan was born and lived in Slovakia, from where he and his common-law wife, Helena Neumannova, fled to neighbouring Austria in 1952. They secretly sailed across the Danube one night and settled in Vienna, where Stefan worked as a reporter for RFE. According to some sources, he also collaborated with the United States Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).

In 1954, Stefan and Helena planned to spend their holidays in southern Austria, which meant they had to travel through the Soviet occupation zone. According to the testimony that appeared in the Austrian press after their kidnapping, at the railway crossing gate at Neukirchenstrasse in Wiener Neustadt, Stefan and Helena were “invited” into a car with Russian licence plates. On 10 September 1954, they were both turned over to the Czechoslovak authorities in Mikulov, from where they were taken to Prague. Stefan was subjected to interrogations that involved cruelty and torture for a year and a half. He was interrogated by both the Czechoslovak State Security forces and the Soviet KGB.  On 27 July 1955, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was later commuted to at first twenty-five years and then later to fifteen years.  Helena Neumannova was sentenced to five years in prison. Stefan Kiripolsky served his sentence at the prisons in Leopoldov and Ilava. He was released after almost fourteen years during the Prague Spring in May 1968.
 

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Roman Protasevich, Belarus

*1995

Journalist and photographer; kidnapped by the Belarusian...
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Roman Protasevich, Belarus

*1995

Journalist and photographer; kidnapped by the Belarusian regime from the regular Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens to Vilnius; accused of alleged extremism and organising mass unrest and inciting social hatred, he faces up to fifteen years imprisonment.

Raman Protasevich is probably the best-known political prisoner of the current Belarusian regime. On 23 May 2021, he was arrested in Minsk, to where the Belarusian authorities had rerouted a flight from Athens to Vilnius, where Raman lives in exile, under the pretext that there was a bomb on board. According to observers, this unprecedented act had the objective of getting one of the leading critics of dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime behind bars. In a statement he made for Deutsche Welle television, Franak Viacorka, who is Raman’s friend and also an advisor to opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, said: “Raman was one of the most conspicuous individuals to point out extensive human rights violations. I think that what we have just witnessed is Lukashenko’s personal revenge.”

Roman, a twenty-six-year-old journalist and photographer, began participating in opposition protests in 2011. He is a co-founder of the Nexta information channel, which was one of the main sources of news about the protests that followed the manipulated presidential elections in 2020. Taken together, the Nexta and Nexta Live channels have a total of almost two million followers, and they continue to succeed in breaking through the strict state censorship. In their profiles, they often post photographs documenting police brutality in Belarus and information about opposition protests and strikes. In March 2021, Roman became the head of  the popular Telegram channel Belarus of the Brain, which has about 250,000 followers.

Roman Protasevich faces a sentence of up to fifteen years imprisonment in Belarus for causing mass unrest. In an interview for Radio Free Europe, his father said: “We are very concerned about what is happening to our son right now. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is or what is going on with him.”

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Zbysek Petrzilek

(1932–1996)

Student; found guilty of high treason, including the...
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Zbysek Petrzilek

(1932–1996)

Student; found guilty of high treason, including the destruction of the property of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment and the forfeiture of all his property.

During his mandatory military service he was arrested while he was still seventeen. He was accused of many crimes. Purportedly, starting in 1950 he was a member of the illegal anti-government movement Children of Edvard Benes (Děti Edvarda Beneše) and later became its leader. Zbysek’s alleged participation in the group’s activities included producing and distributing anti-government flyers, inciting the other members to damage the property of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, helping to produce phosphorous explosives, setting the state-owned farm in Trebosnice on fire, carrying out sabotage at the glue factory where he was employed as well as sabotage activities at a factory in Neratovice, having possession of stolen machinery designs, and striving to establish connections with other illegal groups. He was even said to be in charge of weapons training and allegedly a large number of weapons were found in his possession. The state prosecutor’s office kept on changing and expanding the charges, but in fact most of the accusations were entirely fabricated.

In 1951, the State Court in Prague found Zbysek Petrzilek guilty of high treason and sentenced him to prison for three and a half years and the forfeiture of all his property. He served his sentence at the Institute for Young Delinquents in Zamrsk, where he worked in the locksmithing workshop. All requests aimed at an early release were denied due to his being “an extraordinary danger to society”. One of the evaluations prepared about him states: “A firm hand is required in order to ensure he becomes a proper worker.”

Zbysek Petrzilek was released on 2 September 1953 on the basis of a presidential amnesty. He continued to be listed as a “class enemy”until the fall of the totalitarian regime. 
 

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Azat Miftakhov, Russia

*1993

Mathematician; sentenced to six years unconditional...
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Azat Miftakhov, Russia

*1993

Mathematician; sentenced to six years unconditional imprisonment for “intentionally breaking a window and damaging the linoleum in the office of the United Russia political party”.

Azat  is a Russian mathematician and activist. In February 2019, he was arrested and accused of making explosives but the charges were dropped after a few days. Azat was released but was soon arrested again. In January 2021 he was sentenced to six years unconditional imprisonment for disorderly conduct. Allegedly, in 2018 he threw a smoke bomb into one of the Moscow offices of the ruling United Russia political party. However, according to all known facts, Azat had only been standing close by during this incident and had not thrown anything anywhere. The anonymous witness who testified during the court process had seen him in the dark and several months later had identified him because of his “conspicuous eyebrows”. His guilt was also proven by the testimony of the head of the United Russia office, who said that the replacement of the windows had cost 43,000 roubles (approximately 12,500 Czech crowns). According to the court, this was an act of disorderly conduct motivated by political hate and with the aim of overthrowing the state. Azat never admitted he was guilty and believes he was sentenced for his anarchist opinions.

The Memorial human rights organisation defined Azat Miftakhov as a political prisoner. Almost 3,000 mathematicians from fifteen countries signed a petition for his release. Support was voiced by individuals such as the American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky and the recently deceased American anthropologist David Graeber. The well-known Russian mathematician Anatoly Vershik declared: “We mathematicians are meticulous people – we need proof. Gradually, even the most conservative sceptics began to realise the absurdity of the entire situation surrounding Azat Miftakhov.” Despite his forced stay behind bars in remand prison, Azat has already written two interesting mathematical works.
 

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Dagmar Simkova

(1929–1995)

Dissident; accused of harbouring spies and distributing...
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Dagmar Simkova

(1929–1995)

Dissident; accused of harbouring spies and distributing anti-government materials; she spent fifteen years in prison.

Dagmar Simkova grew up in Pisek. She was twenty-three when the State Security Services came for her. At that time, she was one of the most beautiful young women in Pisek. She liked jazz, wanted to study English, and dreamt of travelling to the free world. However, as far as the regime that took over in Czechoslovakia in 1948 was concerned, this equalled treason. In addition, according to the judges of that time, she came from “an explicitly bourgeoisie family – an enemy of the classes”. 

Dagmar was accused of hiding two friends – army deserters who wanted to get to the other side of the Iron Curtain – in the family villa’s garden, distributing anti-government printed material, and “consistently thinking about illegally escaping to enemy foreign territory”. In February 1954 the Regional Court in České Budějovice sentenced her to eight years imprisonment for these crimes. The state prosecutor protested that he considered the punishment to be too light. He was outraged at the young woman’s unbroken attitude, and so in July 1954 the Supreme Court sent Dagmar to prison for fifteen years.

She spent time in several prisons, and even experienced the infamous correctional practice of a dim and damp cell with nothing but a bare cement floor. Because of her courageous behaviour, she was not released even during the major amnesty of 1960. She did not leave prison until 28 April 1966, after fourteen years of imprisonment. In 1968 she emigrated to Australia. She finished university, organised several exhibitions, was active in the local Czechoslovak community, and even worked for Amnesty International. She also wrote what is one of the most powerful testimonies of life in Communist prisons – her book entitled Byly jsme tam taky (We Were There Too).
 

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Marfa Rabkova, Belarus

*1995

Volunteer coordinator for the Viasna human rights...
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Marfa Rabkova, Belarus

*1995

Volunteer coordinator for the Viasna human rights organisation; detained and accused of inciting hatred against constitutional authorities and participating in a criminal conspiracy; she faces up to twelve years imprisonment.

Marfa Rabkova worked for the Viasna non-profit organisation in Belarus until last September. She joined the group after having been expelled from university for political reasons. She coordinated independent election observers after the intragovernmental organisations relinquished this role. When the protesters who went out into the streets after the rigged presidential election met with brutality, arrest, and torture while detained, she managed Viasna’s volunteer service, whose members helped the wounded during protests, tried to find out to which prisons they were taken, and sent them parcels.

When she was returning home on 17 September 2020, she and her husband Vadzim were attacked by a commando. They were knocked to the ground and told that they were being arrested for organising mass unrest. During a search of their home, their computers, money, and documents were confiscated. Vadzim was interrogated with a bag over his head and subsequently released. Marfa remained in detention. She was accused of preparing people to participate in unrest and financing them. Later the charge was expanded to include an accusation of inciting hostility against the government authorities and participation in a criminal organisation. She faces a sentence of up to twelve years imprisonment. 

Marfa has not seen her family for nine months. Her husband Vadzim says: “The law states that during the investigation phase family visits may or may not be permitted. As far as I know, visits are not allowed at all for the hundreds who have been arrested for political reasons. I sent a request when Marfa’s grandmother died from the coronavirus and her father was critically ill. I wanted to see her so that I could tell her what was happening, but it was like talking to a wall. Those people don’t care.” 

Marfa Rabkova and other imprisoned members of the Viasna Human Rights Centre received the Homo Homini award in 2021.
 

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Karel Pecka

(1928–1997)

Writer; found guilty of high treason and sentenced to...
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Karel Pecka

(1928–1997)

Writer; found guilty of high treason and sentenced to eleven years imprisonment after an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the country.

Karel Pecka was a Czech writer; he was one of the key representatives of Czech prison prose. His books are based on his life experiences. He was born in southern Slovakia where his father was employed. In 1938, the family returned to the Czech part of the country. Karel graduated from the Business Academy in Ceské Budejovice. In 1948, he wanted to study journalism in Prague but because of his personal dossier was denied admission. In September 1948, he moved to Prague, and in January of the following year, he and his friends established the mimeographed flyer publication Za pravdu (For Truth).

In his words: “It was obvious that I could not continue studying. Mandatory military service was knocking at the door, and I said to myself that during the interim it would be good to go out and take a look at the world. So after complicated negotiations, I chose a completely safe way of crossing the border… It was so safe that at the end of May … they arrested me at the railway station in Tachov.“ 

 In 1949, the twenty-year-old Karel was sentenced to eleven years of imprisonment for high treason. He spent time in several labour camps (the coal mines in Kladno, the uranium mines in Jáchymov, and the Bytiz Prison near Pribram).
Karel was released in 1959. While still in prison, he started to write his first texts, which he secretly smuggled home using the so-called “black post”. When the political situation became more relaxed in the 1960s, he even began to publish his works.Later, he was one of the first Czech authors who sent his manuscripts to exile publishing houses despite the risk of possible persecution. The year 1989 saw the publication of what is most probably the best-known Czech prison prose. Karel was one of the few political prisoners from the 1950s who signed the opposition initiative of Charter 77. 
 

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Ihar Losik, Belarus

*1992

Blogger and journalist; detained and accused of organising...
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Ihar Losik, Belarus

*1992

Blogger and journalist; detained and accused of organising events that disturbed public order; according to witnesses, he is in very poor health.

Ihar Losik is a Belarusian blogger and journalist. He is one of the best-known political prisoners of Lukashenko’s regime. Ihar has been behind bars since June 2020, when he was detained and charged with organising and preparing events to disturb public order. According to Belarusian law, he should have been released within no more than six months, but this did not happen. Instead, Losik was accused of other activities, specifically forbidden participation in demonstrations, which made it possible to prolong his detention.

In mid-December 2020 he went on a hunger strike to protest his illegal imprisonment, ending it on 21 January 2021 in response to the pleas of thousands of Belarusians who asked him not to risk his life. “Belarus needs you,” wrote Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition movement. New charges were brought against Ihar in March 2021 – in response to them, he tried to slit his wrists in front of the investigator and the lawyer.

His wife Daria, who remains free, provided an interview to the Czech weekly Respekt. She said: “Ihar is in a very difficult psychological state. His attorney says he has almost disappeared and is only skin and bones. I am not allowed to see him, they will not let me. In one letter, he wrote to me that he will be behind bars for a long time, and that I should learn how to live with our small daughter without him. And that he is afraid that he will not see how our child starts school in a few years.”

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Augustin Bubnik

(1928–2017)

National ice hockey team player; arrested for...
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Augustin Bubnik

(1928–2017)

National ice hockey team player; arrested for “anti-government speech”; sentenced during a political trial to fourteen years imprisonment for espionage, high treason, and subversion of the socialist system.

Augustin Bubnik was a Czech ice hockey player who became a political prisoner. He was born in Prague and trained to be a butcher but his real passion was ice hockey. He played in the Czechoslovak national hockey team, which won the silver medal at the 1948 Winter Olympics and also placed first at the World Championships in 1949. He was planning to play in the next championship in Great Britain in 1950. However, the Czechoslovak representative team did not travel there because of a fabricated reason – the ruling Communist party feared that the hockey players would defect in London and forbade their participation.

In March 1950, the State Security Service arrested a part of the team for speaking against the government in the U Hercliku Restaurant in Prague. Augustin Bubník spent his investigative detention in the infamous Domecek Prison in Prague’s Hradcany district. In his words: “For seven weeks they treated us like cattle. They wanted to force an admission out of us, to beat it out of us, to squeeze it out. You never knew whether they would shoot you or beat you to death.” 

The twenty-year-old athlete was sentenced to fourteen years in a political trial – for espionage, high treason, and subversion of the socialist system. “I was twenty and a member of the world championship team. And they arrested us. Our own country which just a year previously had hailed us as champions.” 

Augustin Bubnik spent his imprisonment in Pilsen at the Na Borech facility, in the labour camps in Jachymov and Pribram, and in two Prague prisons – Pankrac and Ruzyne. He was amnestied in 1955, but was not allowed to return to the Czechoslovak national team or play in the championships. He later became a hockey coach, and enjoyed success chiefly in Finland. 

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Aliaksandra Herasimenia, Belarus

*1985

Swimmer; faces up to five years imprisonment for...
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Aliaksandra Herasimenia, Belarus

*1985

Swimmer; faces up to five years imprisonment for participating in protests against the results of the manipulated presidential elections.

Aliaksandra Herasimenia is a Belarusian swimmer. She won silver medals in the 50- and 100-metre freestyle competitions at the 2021 Olympics in London, and was world freestyle champion in 2011. She ended her sports career in 2019 after her child was born.

In August 2020, she joined the mass protests against the results of the manipulated presidential election. She was also involved in establishing the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, which provides legal and financial aid to athletes who were excluded from representing the country or were expelled from their clubs for political reasons. The foundation also supported this year’s boycott of the Ice Hockey World Championships, which Belarus was supposed to co-host until the International Ice Hockey Federation took away this function from Minsk. As a result, even the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who is a great fan of the sport, lost his “hockey holiday”. 

The athlete’s activities did not escape the regime’s attention, and she was accused of inciting activities threatening the national security of Belarus and damaging the country’s interests and reputation. She has been living in Vilnius, Lithuania, since last October. This April, her name appeared on a list of wanted individuals. Aliaksandra Herasimenia faces a threat of three to five years imprisonment.

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Bedriska Synkova

*1935

Scout; a member of an illegal scouting organisation; under...
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Bedriska Synkova

*1935

Scout; a member of an illegal scouting organisation; under her leadership the group increased in number and published the magazine Lilie; she was arrested for this activity and initially sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

Bedriska Synkova was born and lived in Prague. Prior to her arrest, she had finished two years at the upper technical school for communications electronics. She enjoyed bike riding as well as horseback riding and loved music. From February 1952 until the autumn of 1953 she was a member of an illegal scouting organisation, which she later led. Under her leadership, the group gradually grew in size and started to publish a magazine called Lilie. 
She was arrested for this activity in August 1954 and taken into custody. She and seventeen other people, mostly young scouts, were found guilty by the Regional Court in Prague in March 1955. Bedriska was only twenty when she was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for high treason.

In his assessment of her, the commanding officer of the corrective labour camp wrote: “Her thinking continues to be influenced by cosmopolitanism, which has remained deeply rooted in her because of her active involvement in scouting. As a result, even her attitude towards our political system remains reactionarily focused…”

In 1957, twenty-one months prior to the time of Bedriska’s release, people in Communist Czechoslovakia began using a one-crown coin with a motif of a woman planting a lime tree. The Communist government had no inkling that the model sculptor Marie Uchytilova-Kucova had used for the design was the political prisoner Bedriska Synkova. The artist was deeply touched by Bedriska’s story, which she learned from the young woman’s mother.

Bedriska Synkova was released on 27 May 1959 as a result of an amnesty decree. She emigrated to Switzerland in 1968, where she lives to this day.
 

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Ksenia Syramalot, Belarus

*1999

Student and spokesperson for the Belarus Students’...
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Ksenia Syramalot, Belarus

*1999

Student and spokesperson for the Belarus Students’ Association; detained and accused of participating in a criminal conspiracy with the aim of organising mass unrest at universities.

Ksenia Syramalot is a top student who received the highest possible marks in two university entrance examinations, something about which Belarus state television once even reported. A philosophy and social science student, Ksenia has always had many hobbies and she joined the Belarus Students’ Association when at university. The government has always found this organisation to be uncomfortable. It was established in the late 1980s in protest against the mandatory teaching of scientific communism, and in the 1990s strived to gain better conditions for students and promoted Belarusian culture and language. After Alexander Lukashenko came to power, the Association faced repression. In 2001, its registration was revoked and its activities were banned for fifteen years. The Association continued to operate underground until 2016, at which time it became fully re-established. 

When protests began following the presidential elections in August 2020, the students joined in – the majority of them, including Ksenia, were members of the Belarus Students’ Association. They formed university strike committees and tried to conceal their connection with the Association as they did not want to put its activities at risk. They were not successful, and on 12 November 2020 – a day which students now call “Black Thursday”, ten active students were detained.

According to Ksenia’s friend Nastya, who managed to escape, “Ksenia only had time to send an automatic SOS message through a phone app, which made it possible for me to find her location – the geolocation tracking showed me that she was already at the local KGB headquarters.” Now Ksenie, eleven fellow students, and one university teacher face charges in a trial labelled “Court process against students for organization or participation in group actions that gravely breach public order”. Criminal conspiracy was later added to the list. Ksenia Syramalot faces a sentence of at least two years imprisonment.
 

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Ivan Kubicek

(1933–2003)

Journalist and prose writer; threatened with physical...
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Ivan Kubicek

(1933–2003)

Journalist and prose writer; threatened with physical liquidation for his unfavourable opinion of the occupation and banned from publishing.

Ivan Kubicek  was a journalist and prose writer. He was born in Prague. After World War II, he completed grammar school and then, from 1955 to 1956, studied remotely at the University of Russian and Russian Literature. In 1952, he moved to Ostrava and became the editor of the New Freedom (Nová svoboda) daily newspaper. In 1968, he was one of the main representatives of the revival in the Ostrava region.

After the August 1968 invasion by Warsaw Pact troops, Ivan participated in the publication of Spojené deníky (United Dailies), which was the only newspaper in the country to present independent news during the first days of the occupation. The furious Soviet general Ivan Pavlovsky allegedly issued an order to shoot the three “counter-revolutionaries” from Ostrava. Ivan, whom the conservative Ostrava communists considered to be the most dangerous of the group, was of course on the list.

On 13 September 1968, Ivan published an article entitled “What We Can and What We Must” (“Co můžeme a musíme”), in which he called upon all upright citizens to “emigrate internally” and not to co-operate with the occupiers. That night he was taken by armoured transport and under guard by a soldier with an assault rifle to the Soviet headquarters in Trencin, where three Soviet commanders threatened him with physical liquidation if he did not end his “counter-revolutionary” journalistic activities. Ivan made a note that the interrogation was harsh and hateful; they accused him of betraying Socialism and collusion with “various long-haired riff-raff from the West”.

Ivan Kubicek was not allowed to publish after 1969, and he worked in Ostrava as a driver and an excavator operator. In 1975, he permanently returned to Prague.

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Avazmad Ghurbatov, Tajikistan

*1997

Journalist and defender of human rights; attacked three...
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Avazmad Ghurbatov, Tajikistan

*1997

Journalist and defender of human rights; attacked three times and cruelly beaten by unknown attackers; three hospitals refused to treat him.

Avazmad Ghurbatov is known under the pseudonym of Abdullo Gurbati, is a human rights activist and correspondent for the Asia Polus independent news agency, which is one of the last existing independent media in Tajikistan. As a journalist, he focuses on the living conditions of people with health disabilities, the violation of voting rights, and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on small businesses and the overall atmosphere in the country. In spring 2020 he faced a defamatory campaign on social networks that was organised by the state security forces as well as numerous threats associated with his journalistic efforts to describe the state of public health and the spread of the coronavirus epidemic in Tajikistan (the government denied that coronavirus was spreading until the end of April). One of the anonymous phone calls he received said: “We will remove anyone who stands in our way.” Words gave way to deeds on 11 May 2020 when two masked men attacked Avazmad, beat him with their fists and kicked him. The journalist suffered bruises on his entire body and cuts to his head and left ear. He was attacked again only two weeks later. Three hospitals refused to treat him.

Just in the past four years there have been 81 attacks on journalists that have been recorded, while some are not reported at all because of fear. According to the Press Freedom Index published annually by the Reporters Without Borders organisation. Tajikistan currently ranks 162nd out of 180 countries. 
 

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Dalibor Coufal

(1930–2020)

Student; expelled from the university for his political...
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Dalibor Coufal

(1930–2020)

Student; expelled from the university for his political opinions two months before his final examinations.

Dalibor Coufal was originally from Hrusovany nad Jevisovkou. After the Munich Dictate, his family was forced to move to Brno. In 1946, he joined the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (not in any way affiliated with the German National Socialist Workers Party). In 1949, after he had graduated from grammar school, he began attending the Dr. Edvard Benes University of Technology in Brno. Because of his political opinions and membership in the National Socialist Party he was expelled in 1953, just two months before his final examinations. The justification was that he did not fulfil the prerequisites for being a good socialist engineer. 

Shortly afterwards, Coufal had to start his mandatory military service. As he was classified as “an element dangerous to socialism” he was drafted into the Technical Auxiliary Battalions – Forced Labor Military Camps (PTP-VTNP). He was sent to work in the coal mines, first in the Nejedly Mine near Smečno, and later in the Nosek Mine in Stochova. The miners worked six days a week in three shifts. Coufal did not mind the hard work – he was an athlete and used to physical exertion. What he could not stand, however, were the constant comments of the commanding officers saying that the recruits were “outcasts from society, only good for rough labour, and if they did not change politically then they could forget about returning to civilian life”.  

However, even after returning from the Auxiliary Battalion, Coufal remained labelled as a politically unreliable person, and, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he remained a persona non grata with the regime. Dalibor Coufal was one of the leading members of the Moravian-Silesian PTP Union. He died on 21 June 2020.

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Beibarys Tolymbekov, Kazakhstan

*1998

Artist and civic activist; detained and subsequently posted...
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Beibarys Tolymbekov, Kazakhstan

*1998

Artist and civic activist; detained and subsequently posted to a military base with a bad reputation for committing violence against conscripts.

Beibarys Tolymbekov is a Kazakh artist, activist, and member of the civic movement Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazachstan). In April 2019 he was detained for fifteen days for participating in a protest, when during the Almaty Marathon he and other activists unfurled a banner reading: “You cannot run away from the truth. For fair elections.” Events to support the detainees took place throughout the entire country and in some of the world’s metropolises (London, New York, Rome, Berlin). Pressure was exerted on the activists’ families and they faced threats of losing their jobs. After he was released, Beibarys, who was twenty at the time, received a summons to start his military service even though he had previously obtained a deferral. After being issued a uniform and undergoing a medical examination, he was posted to the Otar Military Base, which has a bad reputation because of the violence that is committed against conscripts (for instance, in 2016 the Ministry of Defence informed the parents of twenty-one-year-old Sayan Satybaev that their son had committed suicide, but an examination of the young man’s body revealed numerous broken bones and other injuries. Beibarys did not even have a chance to say good-bye to his family and friends. He returned home after one year of military service and is active in the Oyan, Qazaqstan civic movement, which is striving to achieve changes in the election and judicial systems, and a move to a parliamentary form of government in Kazakhstan. According to Beibarys Tolymbekov, “Democratic changes must come from the bottom, not from the top.” 

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Dopis perzekuovaným osobnostem:

Milí přátelé,

už déle než třicet let žijí Češi opět v demokracii. Historická zkušenost nám přitom připomíná,

že to není samozřejmost a že zápas o svobodný dnešek v minulosti vybojovali stateční a odhodlaní lidé.

Podobné zápasy dnes svádějí svobodomyslní lidé s režimy v postsovětských zemích a právě Vy patříte mezi ně. Obdivujeme Vaši odvahu a nezlomnost.

Alespoň takto symbolicky vyjadřujeme podporu Vašemu úsilí při obraně lidských práv, spravedlnosti a základních svobod.

Věříme, že na konci Vašeho boje bude změna, které jsme se my dočkali v listopadu 1989.

Přejeme, ať se tomu stane co nejdříve.

Hodně sil, vytrvejte.


Dear Friends,

For more than thirty years, Czechs have once again living been living under democracy. However, historical experience reminds us that this is not a certainty, and that brave and determined people fought in the past for the freedom we enjoy today.

Today, free-thinking people are leading similar battles with the post-Soviet states and you are amongst them.  We admire your courage and relentless determination, and so with this letter we would like to at least symbolically voice our support for your efforts to defend human rights, justice, and basic freedoms.

We firmly believe that your battle will ultimately lead to the same kind of changes we saw in our country in November 1989. Let us all hope that this happens as soon as possible.

We wish you much strength. Continue to stand firm.

Celé znění souhlasu najdete zde.