Czech Court Hands Out Jail Terms, Fines to 7 Young Dissident Leaders

Times Staff Writer

Seven young political dissidents were convicted of "hooliganism" and related charges here Wednesday, with one of the group's leaders sentenced to a year in jail and another to nine months.

The other five were given suspended sentences of fines and jail terms of two to six months.

The seven dissidents, representing the leadership of an emerging opposition among Czechoslovak youth, faced charges that grew out of their arrests in street demonstrations held here in January.

Jana Petrova and Ota Veverka, who have been in jail since the January arrests, received the longest sentences. They are leaders in the Independent Peace Assn., which has won a sizable following among Czech youth with its campaign to shorten the two-year obligation for military service and allow alternative service instead of military duty.

Petrova was sentenced by the Prague city court to nine months in jail. Veverka, who had been arrested three times previously, was given one year.

"To consider laying flowers in the street as 'hooliganism' is absurd," Petrova told the court.

The demonstrations in which she and the others were arrested were held in memory of Jan Palach, a student who burned himself to death 20 years ago to protest the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The sentences came a day after the nation's leading dissident, playwright Vaclav Havel, was sentenced to nine months in jail on charges of incitement and obstructing police. He was arrested in the same demonstrations.

The hard-line Czechoslovak government offered no response Wednesday to protests from the Dutch and British governments over the Havel case. In addition, diplomatic sources said formal messages had been presented to the Czechoslovak government from seven Western embassies in Prague questioning the government's handling of the Havel case.

In Washington, the State Department expressed deep regret Wednesday over the sentencing of Havel, calling it "bitter testimony" to the lack of human rights in Czechoslovakia, wire services reported.

The government line, as reflected in accounts in the official news media, contends that the dissidents are interrupting Czechoslovakia's efforts at reform.

Independent observers, however, say they see scant evidence of reform here. Instead, they say, the current crackdown on the opposition reflects a deep resistance in the leadership to any liberalization.

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