107. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Czechoslovakia1

148769. Subject: (C) Protest to Czechoslovak Ambassador Over Arrests of Dissidents. Refs: A) Prague 1850; B) Prague 1819 (Notal).2

1. (C-entire text)

2. EUR Assistant Secretary Vest called on Czechoslovak Ambassador Johanes on June 8 to protest the May 29 arrest of Czechoslovak dissidents. HA Deputy Assistant Secretary Schneider and Czechoslovak Desk Officer were present. Following is a summary of the discussion.

3. Noting that he was speaking in the context of our efforts to improve bilateral relations, Vest cited the recent arrests and protested them as violations of the dissidents’ human rights and as inconsistent with the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. Vest said that, as publicity increases, these arrests will negatively affect congressional and public opinion and cannot help but have an adverse effect on bilateral relations.

4. Johanes said he was unaware of the arrests since local media had not yet carried anything about them, but he personally rejected the protest as constituting interference in Czechoslovakia’s internal affairs. Johanes said only a person who violates the law is imprisoned in Czechoslovakia and that the law and the courts are an internal [Page 316] affair. The Czechoslovak Government does not like interference in Czechoslovakia’s internal affairs. Johanes mentioned a number of letters he had recently received on behalf of a prisoner in Czechoslovakia serving a three-year sentence and wondered if this letter-writing campaign was not the concoction of persons interested in harming relations.

5. Vest noted that the signatories of the Final Act shared common objectives. When a country’s laws and practices conflict with these objectives, all signatories are properly concerned. Such conflicts in Czechoslovakia will entail certain consequences in the United States. The point is that the Czechoslovak Government must act with these consequences in mind.

6. Schneider supported Vest’s statement and added that the USG would be willing to examine closely any conflicts between its laws and practices and the Final Act which the Czechoslovak Government cared to raise.

7. Ambassador Johanes observed that none of the Charter 77 dissidents has been jailed for having signed the Charter or having exercised their right of free expression. If the Czechoslovak Government recently arrested some dissidents, they had violated the law.

8. Johanes said that the Final Act also provided for free trade, yet the US had not yet extended MFN tariff status to Czechoslovakia. The Final Act was intended to dispose of the remnants of World War II, yet the US still refused to return Czechoslovakia’s gold. Johanes added that the US Government maintains relations with many countries around the world which have poor human rights records, in many cases much worse than Czechoslovakia’s.

9. In response to Vest’s request, Johanes said he would inform the Czechoslovak Government of our protest and inquire about the arrests.

10. Action requested: The Ambassador should make an approach along the lines of the above to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790262–0653. Confidential; Immediate. Drafted by Glenn; cleared by Schneider and Schmidt; approved by Vest. Sent for information to Belgrade, East Berlin, Bonn, Budapest, Moscow, Sofia, Vienna, Warsaw, Bucharest, Munich, and USNATO. In telegram 1724 from Prague, May 31, the Embassy reported the arrests of several prominent Charter 77 members, possibly preemptive to the Papal visit to Poland. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790245–1053) Following the arrests, the Department of State’s Bureau of European Affairs tried to hold off any official protests pushed for by the Department’s Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, in the hope that dissidents would be released shortly after the end of the Papal visit. When formal charges were brought against the majority of dissidents arrested, the Department moved ahead with formal protests. (Telegram 140848 to Prague, June 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790249–0810)
  2. In telegram 1819 from Prague, June 6, the Embassy reported the arrests of dissidents as “the GOC’s most serious action against individuals connected with the Charter 77 movement since the beginning” and “a palpable change for the worse in the GOC’s already deplorable policy toward dissidents.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790257–0002) In telegram 1850 from Prague, June 8, the Embassy reported that all arrested individuals were connected with the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (CDUP), an offshoot of Charter 77, and that of the 16 people arrested 6 were released shortly after, while 10 remained in detention and faced charges. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790259–0925)
  3. Ambassador Meehan delivered the démarche to Jablonsky on June 13. Describing the meeting as “frank and brisk,” Meehan reported that Jablonsky began their discussions by rejecting Vest’s démarche to Ambassador Johanes, describing it as “an unsubstantiated attack and gross interference in [Czechoslovak] internal affairs.” Meehan reported that he stressed that “human rights is a key feature of our foreign policy and a matter of great concern to Congress and the public.” (Telegram 1958 from Prague, June 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790270–0556)