No. 670

Editorial Note

William N. Oatis took up his position as Associated Press correspondent in Praha, Czechoslovakia, in June 1950, and almost from the beginning of his assignment he reported being subjected to harassing tactics by Czechoslovak authorities. During March and April 1951 he reportedly came under close surveillance by the police, and three Czechoslovak nationals on his staff were arrested. Immediately after the American Embassy in Praha was informed on April 25 that Oatis had not been seen either at his office or residence since April 23, oral representations were made to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry and a formal note was presented requesting an immediate investigation. On the following day, the Foreign Ministry informed the Embassy that Oatis was detained for having carried out activities hostile to the Czechoslovak State involving the use of Czechoslovak employees of the Associated Press office in securing and verifying “secret” reports, acquiring and disseminating illegal press material, and utilizing Czechoslovak employees for similar purposes.

The Embassy, immediately thereafter, expressed astonishment at the arrest of Oatis on such charges, reserved rights on his behalf, requested permission for a consular officer to visit him, and asked [Page 1352] whether an American lawyer would be permitted to represent him in Czechoslovakia. The Foreign Ministry replied by denying the request for consular access on the grounds that according to existing law a visit could not be permitted at that stage of Oatis’ investigation. At the same time the Foreign Ministry stated that any person chosen to represent Oatis would have to be a Czechoslovak lawyer qualified to appear before a Czechoslovak court.

The correspondence, records, and reports dealing with the Oatis case are largely gathered together in file 249.1111–Oatis, William. Some of the documentation is also included in file 249.1122–Oatis, William. The arrest, trial, and attempts to obtain the release of Oatis during 1951 are discussed in Briggs, Farewell to Foggy Bottom, Chapter V. Major meetings and documents dealt with by Briggs are documented in this compilation.