1) Human Rights situation in Czechoslovakia, focusing upon political dissidents; 2)Penalties for overstaying exit visas; 3)Penalties for evading military service in Czechoslovakia [CSK1400]

1) For an overview regarding the situation for dissidents in Czechoslovakia, please consult the attached excerpts from the Helsinki Watch publication, Human Rights in Czechoslovakia, the Amnesty International report for 1988, and the U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988. The attached article from The Globe and Mail is typical of the news reports emanating from Czechoslovakia.


An Amnesty International document, The Imprisonment of Persons Seeking to Leave a Country or to Return to Their Own Country, states the following:

Article 109 of the penal code of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR) provides: "Whoever leaves the territory of the Republic without permission shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of six months to five years, by reformatory measure or by forfeiture of property". Paragraph 2 states that "the same punishment shall be imposed on a Czechoslovak citizen who stays abroad without permission. Paragraph 3 of the same article imposes penalties of imprisonment of three to ten years for certain other acts including organizing the acts in paragraph 1 and 2 or taking across a frontier a group of persons who are leaving without permission. [Amnesty International, The Imprisonment of Persons Seeking to Leave a Country or to Return to Their Own Country (London: Amnesty International, 1986), p. 7.]

Official Czechoslovak government statistics indicate that about 450 people are imprisoned annually for offenses under Article 109. [, Amnesty International Report 1988 (London: Amnesty International, 1988), p. 197.] Details of most cases tried under this article are not available. [Ibid.] Some of them do, however, come to the attention of Amnesty International. In one instance, a man was imprisoned following his attempt to swim the Danube from Czechoslovakia to Hungary. Charged under Article 109, he received a sentence of two years and three months. [Op. cit., Amnesty International (1986), p. 8] Another man was sentenced, in August 1979, to one year in jail for a similar offence. [Amnesty International, Amnesty International Briefing: Czechoslovakia (London: Amnesty International, 1981), p. 9.] Perhaps the extent to which the Article is applied is best illustrated by the case of Diamkos Zigouris. Charged and sentenced in absentia after he left the CSSR in 1974 to take up residence in the Federal Republic of Germany, Zigouris was arrested in 1984 while travelling in Czechoslovakia on a Greek passport with a valid Czech entry visa. He was required to serve the sentence originally imposed upon him in 1976 for violating Article 109. [Op. cit., Amnesty International (1986), p. 8.]

An amnesty declared in May 1985 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II specifically exempted the criminal offence of illegal departure. [Ibid.] Conversely, an general amnesty was announced 27 October 1988 for persons convicted of leaving the country without permission. [U.S Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989), p. 1027.] However, the Department of External Affairs warns that this amnesty was not a "blanket" amnesty; the conditions were very limited. External remains very sceptical about the harmonization of Czech law and practice on this account. Consequently, Czechoslovakians resident in Canada should be wary. In essence, the usual punishments are being meted out to those who violate the penal code articles on illegal exit. The Department further comments to the effect that Czechoslovakia does not encourage its former citizens who are residents abroad to return, unlike other socialist countries.

3) The attached excerpts from the United Nations document Conscientious Objection to Military Service, dated 1985, state that a conscientious objector, a member of the Czech dissident group Charter 77, was sentenced by a military court in June 1981. This document further states that the penalty applied to cases of conscientious objection is 2 to 10 years imprisonment. According to the Amnesty International report Conscientious Objection to Military Service, those who refuse to perform the compulsory military service may be imprisoned for up to 10 years, depending on the article under which they are convicted. [Amnesty International, Conscientious Objection to Military Service, (London: Amnesty International International Secretariat, 1988), p. 6.] Please see the attached excerpts from the Amnesty International document for further details.

Amnesty International. Conscientious Objection to Military Service. London: Amnesty International International Secretariat, 1988. 5-6.

. Amnesty International Report 1988. London: Amnesty International Publications, 1988. 196-198.

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. Human Rights in Czechoslovakia 1988. Vienna: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, 1989. 6-34.

United Nations. Conscientious Objection to Military Service. New York: United Nations, 1985. 25,28.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989. 1017-1030.

"7 activists convicted in Czechoslovakia", The Globe and Mail. 23 February 1989. N8.