Other than for the period of Nazi domination, Czechoslovakia
operated under two different penal codes for the first thirty-two
years of its existence. Bohemia and Moravia used the Austrian
Penal Code, which had been in effect in those areas before
independence, whereas Slovakia used the Hungarian Penal Code.
Both codes had been amended during the years of independence, but
no distinctively Czechoslovak code had been formulated until the
KSC hastily improvised one after the coup.
This 1950 Penal code was harsh and repressive, reflecting the
siege mentality of the communist elite, who felt threatened by
the people they ruled. Amendments in the mid-1950s eliminated
some of the harshest aspects, and a new code was issued in 1961,
with a revision in 1973. The 1961 code underwent no significant
altercation during the Prague Spring in 1968.
The Czechoslovak Constitution of 1960 guarantees basic
political freedoms while negating them in Article 34, which
states that citizens are "in all their actions to pay heed to the
interests of the socialist state and the society of the working
people." This article thus provides a way for laws to be written
that infringe on rights guaranteed elsewhere in the Constitution.
Still in effect in late 1987, the Czechoslovak Penal Code of
1961 enroached upon such constitutionally guaranteed rights as
freedom of speech, the press, and association. According to
provisions of the cods's "Sedition" sectioon, people
participating in mass demonstrations "against the Republic, its
organs or public organizations of the working people" could be
punished by sentences of up to 15 years' imprisonment, and under
certain circumstances--for example, proof of conspiracy, acts
resulting in death, or acts committed during a declared defense
emergency--even death. Article 98 dictated punishments for
"subversive activity against the social and governmental system
of the Republic, against its territorial integrity, defensive
capacity or independence, or against its international
interests." Article 100 specified prison sentences of up to five
years for inciting two or more people against the subjects
enumerated in Article 98 or "against the alliances or friendly
relations between the Republic and other states." Articles 102
and 104 allowed for prison sentences for those who "publicly
defame" the state or its officials or those of any state
"belonging to the world socialist system." Article 112 stipulated
prison sentences of up to three years for persons harming the
interests of Czechoslovakia abroad.
Thus, the Penal Code provided that those who criticized the
Czechoslovak government or its policies would be imprisoned.
Sentences tended to be more severe for crimes against the state
or state property than for crimes against the person or personal
property. The death penalty, although infrequently carried out,
was permitted for several crimes against the state and for a few
heinous crimes against the person.
The 1973 revisions to the code increased the maximum
allowable prison sentence from fifteen to twenty-five years for
so-called antisocialist crimes. The death penalty was extended to
cover hijacking or kidnapping crimes in which death resulted and
to cover cases in which such crimes were committed during a state
of emergency. Penalties were increased for fleeing the country
and for disclosing state secrets abroad. Articles 106 and 107,
concerning state secrets, were expanded to include so many area
of information about the government, the economy, the military,
and other institutions that news coverage became almost
meaningless. Published articles or public statements only mildly
critical of the regime have led to arrests and conviction, and
criticisms of the Soviet Union or of Soviet involvement in
Czechoslovakia have resulted in prison sentences.
Although the 1961 code was harsh, it was never adhered to
strictly. The KSC often issued secret instructions to judges to
ensure that certain court rulings would be in accord with its
wishes. The Dubcek reformers attempted to stop this practice
during the period of the Prague Spring, but it was resumed during
the subsequent period of "normalization."
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Penal Code with its
amendments allowed the regime to protect itself against any
further democratization attempts. When the Charter 77 movement
emerged, the laws that the authorities could use to crush the
incipient democratic force were in the code. Because the offenses
for which people were being arrested, e.g., signing Charter 77 or
speaking publicly against repression, could be construed as
crimes under the Penal Code, those arrested were charged as
criminals when in fact they were political offenders.
In 1984 the government introduced a form of punishment for
political prisoners called "protective supervision," a kind of
internal exile and house arrest. In two such cases, Charter 77
signatories Ladislav Lis and Jiri Limomisky were required to
report daily to a local police station at a specific time, seven
days a week. Violations, including tardiness, could be punished
by additional sentences. Those subject to such measures were also
subject to house searches at any time.
Data as of August 1987