I consider it my duty to inform you about certain operations recently carried out against me. I believe them to have been unwarranted and arbitrary -- if not totally unlawful.
I planned last spring to take a holiday trip -- the first in many years -- around Czechoslovakia to visit places I hadn't seen before, to stay with friends in their summer cabins, and to see others who live outside of Prague. My friend Jitka Vodnanska agreed to accompany me on the trip if it could be during her scheduled vacation. So, I arranged to make the trip between Aug. 9 and 17, when she had her vacation.
We wrote letters about the trip. So I assumed the police would be well informed of my plans, which I had no reason to conceal from them anyway. This may seem an ungrounded suspicion that the police violate the privacy of the mails. However, it is certainly not unfounded. The very day I was to visit my friends at their vacation addresses, their places were surrounded by the police. Local police forces were informed of my plans and had orders to report the arrival of my car immediately. All of this could only have happened on the basis of information gleaned from my private letters.
Four hours prior to my planned departure from home, an offical car loaded with three plainclothes police officers drove up. I was informed that they had orders to follow me to the city limits. They did. When Jitka and I set off from Prague, those officers had indeed left us. We were then immediately tailed by another official car containing three other men who also made no secret of their mission. They discussed it openly with me.
Our first stop was the home of my friend Ladislav Lis at Peklo near Ceska Lipa. Awaiting us on our arrival were police officers from Ceska Lipa who took over our surveillance, tailing us on a walk through the woods and then staking out the house.
Suddenly, about 8 p.m., the house was invaded by a huge number of policemen who said they had come to make a house search to find a draft of the statement of Charter 77 (the Czechoslovak human-rights organization) for the 17th anniversary of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. As the law requires, they first called on Lis (who is still under "protective supervision" from his last conviction and has to report four times a day to the local police and get their permission to go from Prague to his country house) to hand over the document voluntarily. Lis informed them he did not have the document. They then said they had to await further instructions.
We learned later that, at about the same time, other police officers went to the nearby summer cabin of the current Charter 77 spokesman, Jiri Dienstbier, with the same orders. He voluntarily handed over the document, so the ostensible reason for the search disappeared. The search was carried out anyway.
Meanwhile, we had supper and chatted while the policemen waited for instructions. After lengthy bargaining with them, it was agreed that most of them would wait outside the house and only four would sit with us in the room. They watched us in silence as we enjoyed ourselves for the next three hours. Then, at about 11 p.m., another group arrived and began a house search (even though the police already had been given the document they wanted).
I was arrested and driven back to Prague to the Bartolomejska Street police station. There, two questions were put to me: what did I know about the Charter 77 document and what was the purpose of my vacation? I answered truthfully that I knew nothing about the document and that my trip was a vacation and had nothing at all to do with my human rights activities.
Neither I nor Lis had had the document they wanted so there was no reason to connect our meeting with it or delay our plans further. Nonetheless, I was held for 48 hours under "suspicion of conspiring to commit a breach of the peace"! So were Ladislav Lis and Jiri Dienstbier.
I was then released and the charge filed against me was formally annulled. On Aug. 12, I returned to the Lis' home where my friend and my car were waiting for me. After these two days of absurd imprisonment, we continued our journey without any tails. I concluded, prematurely, that the police no longer regarded my vacation trip as "suspicious."
That same afternoon, we reached the holiday cabin of Vlasta Chramostova and Stanislav Milota in Prysek. During the evening, I discovered that the cabin was staked out by a police car with a whole team of officers. The following morning, I asked the plain-clothes officers watching the house if they had orders only to tail me or if I could expect further complications.
I told them if the police regarded my trip as suspicious and were determined to spoil it by interrogating friends I visited, arresting them, or searching their homes, I was prepared to call off my trip and return to my own summer cabin. They assured me that I could continue my trip and that I would merely be tailed.
This was indeed the case. We went on to visit a number of friends (though we had to reduce our plan because of the two days and nights I lost in detention). But, I found out later, the police even staked out friends we no longer had time to visit. For, understandably, they did not know precisely how we would change our plans. They probably also wanted to be more thorough than they could be by merely tailing us.
We stopped to look at a number of towns and monuments. We went swimming in different places. The whole time we were under permanent surveillance from plainclothes police officers with several cars at their disposal. When we decided to stay the night, the officers who had tailed us would hand us over to officers from the local police.
All of them communicated politely with me. Sometimes, when we lost our way, we got directions from them to the places we were going. And, once, they gave us directions without our even having to ask for them. They went swimming with us or watched us with binoculars from the opposite bank of the pond. When we picked up hitchhikers, they checked their papers. Once, my car was given a safety check, the papers were examined, and our luggage searched. Then, we went on our way.
On Aug. 15 in Olomouc, the number of our "tails" suddenly increased enormously. To head off further complications, I wrote a letter addressed to "Lieutennt Riha or Any Other Senior Secret Police Officer in Prague in Charge of the Operations Concerning My Person." In it, I pointed out they had assured me more than once that we could come to specific agreements in some areas. I also reminded them that, more than once, they had suggested that, if I ever found myself in an unclear position, I should not hesitate to call them. (And they gave me their direct telephone numbers.)
On the basis of these assurances, I tried to offer them some sort of an agreement: if they disapproved of my journey and still considered it inappropriate, suspect, or inadvisable enough for them to take other organized actions or subject me or anyone else to further interrogations or house searches, then I was prepared to end my journey and return home. If they only planned to tail me, then I would continue my trip. (After all, I am used to being tailed and if I were to allow it to restrict my movements, I would not go out very much at all.)
I handed the letter to the officers tailing me. They promised to pass it on. In the letter, I assured them that any reply could be conveyed to me through my tail.
I also stressed that any serious confrontation would inevitably get worldwide publicity. This was hardly something, it seemed to me, that Czechoslovakia would want. And I, for that matter, do not hanker after the public notoriety of being somone who gets arrested every week.
We continued our journey. No message, appeal, or warning was conveyed to me. I thought this was a tacit agreement by my police "watchings" that no further serious complications would occur. This was a grave miscalculation on my part.
At 8 p.m. on Aug. 16, we arrived in Bratislava where we planned to spend the night before going on the next morning to my country house. Ten minutes after our arrival at my friends the Kusys', while we were still exchanging greetings, the doorbell rang. A familiar scene followed. The house was suddenly filled with police officers with a warrant to search the premises. Once again, I was arrested and taken to the Ministry of the Interior in Bratislava. There I went through the same interrogation I had a week before in Prague. Once more I was declared to be "under suspicion."
This time, for a change, it was "of conspiracy to commit incitement." Although my previous arrest had been groundless -- even according to the secret police's understanding of "suspicion" -- and although the police (who had had me under constant surveillance) had turned up no new evidence, I was once more declared to be "under suspicion" that my trip had something to do with Charter 77 and its planned August statement.
This time, the suspicion was doubly groundless and senseless. Yet again, no incriminating document was discovered. In spite of this, the police clung to their obsession that my trip was somehow suspicious even though they had had countless opportunities in the meantime to prevent my alleged "conspiracy to commit an offense," to issue me a warning or take preventative action. This is, after all, their legal duty.
A request to me not to continue my trip and risk committing some assumed criminal act could have been conveyed to me by a reply to my letter. (It would have been a major compromise on my part. I wrote the letter knowing that I did not intend to break the law. In fact, the letter had been a question to the police as to whether they intended to issue me a warning against continuing my journey. I made it clear that I would take any advice they offered.)
In spite of all that, I was detained yet again. I was joined in my police cell successively by Miroslav Kusy (my original host), Tomas Petrivy (who had been at the Kusys' when the police arrived), and even Jitka Vodnanska (who is not a Charter 77 signatory and is clearly above suspicion).
The homes of Kusy and Petrivy were searched. Our car was completely searched. Various documents about the European peace movements were taken, as well as some journals and books published abroad that I was taking to my summer cabin (including my prison letters that the authorities had already gone through with a fine-toothed comb).
These the police always confiscate. Many other things were also taken that are usually left alone: 25 cassettes with various recordings of bands and singers like Pink Floyd and John Lennon, the car cassette recorder, my friend's address book, and a map of Czechoslovakia with the route for our now completed trip marked on it.
Understandably I protested and reinforced my protest by going on a hunger strike.
When my detention ended Aug. 18, I was escorted past the Ministry of Interior building to my car. An elderly man emerged from the building. He could have been the deputy minister or the front hall porter. He didn't introduce himself. He simply informed me that I must leave Bratislava immediately without even making a phone call. And, he said I could not come back for 20 years. This was also a message I was to pass on to my friends.
Jitka Vodnanska had been taken that morning and put on the Prague express train. She was accompanied by a police officer. This was all against her will since, understandably, she wanted to leave with me. I had all her things -- including house keys -- in the car. I was escorted out of Bratislava by a small convoy of police cars (one in front and more than I could count behind) -- supposedly for 20 years -- and then tailed to Prague, through Prague, and then on to my summer cabin.
The overall balance sheet of my holiday trip appears as follows:
*My trip either directly or indirectly and for various lengths of time, employed -- according to my rough estimate -- some 300 policemen. So, it cost the Czechoslovak state at least a hundred times more than it cost me (not even counting the gas that was used up).
*My journey was slightly spoiled, but not entirely so: I will definitely recall it longer than if it had gone off normally.
*All the groundless and absurd operations connected with my trip and related (by the police) to Aug. 21, including above all the fact that I was held in custody twice in the course of two weeks, as were five other citizens, once again alerted the public at home and abroad to the attempt to hush up the 17th anniversary of the Soviet invasion and the practices employed by the regime installed then by the Warsaw Pact forces.
*And, of course, the operation helped magnify publicity for the August statement of Charter 77. (Incidentally, I learned about the content of the statement from foreign broadcasts after I returned to Prague.) Thanks to our various departments of the Ministry of Interior, the attention of the world was once more drawn to our country and in a manner that did it no credit.
It is your duty to see that the laws are respected in our country. I therefore request you to assess the events I have described to you from the point of view of their legality and in terms of the wider political interests of the Czechoslovak state.