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5 Leaders of Czechoslovakia's Jazz Section Cultural Group Convicted; 2 Are Sentenced to Prison

March 12, 1987|Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — A judge Wednesday convicted five leaders of the Jazz Section, a cultural group that promoted jazz and other non-sanctioned art forms, on charges of conducting illegal business practices.

The two principal defendants were sentenced to prison terms of 16 months and 10 months, while the other three were given suspended sentences.

About 150 supporters outside the courtroom sang "Give Peace a Chance."

Authorities have denied that the trial has political connotations, but Western human rights activists say it is the largest political trial in Czechoslovakia since the Communist state tried human rights activists in 1979.

The five defendants are leaders of Jazz Section, an independent publishing and musical organization founded in 1971 as part of the official Musicians' Union.

The group fell into disfavor with the government for publishing unauthorized art and arranging jazz concerts and other music events without state sanction. In 1984, the state banned the Musicians' Union, its parent organization.

Authorities charged that the defendants engaged in illegal economic activities, because they continued to run the 7,000-member Jazz Section even though it officially ceased to exist after 1984. They also said the defendants made illegal profits of $6,200.

"We don't want in any way to hurt the cultural movement in our country," Judge Vladimir Stiborik said. "We want to develop it more and more as there is a young generation with new interests. We want to support this."

Social Value Noted

However, the judge said, promoting culture "requires a legal form because social value must be attained."

The defendants all pleaded innocent when the trial began Tuesday.

Jazz Section leader Karel Srp said Wednesday that the defense has proven that the charges are untrue. Srp appealed for more cultural freedom. The defendants have said they kept Jazz Section going because they received no official word that the abolition of the Musicians' Union made their activities illegal.

'Humanitarian Organization'

"Our organization is a humanitarian and cultural one. We did what the nation wanted," Srp told the court. "I think that this trial will go into history. I was simply continuing my activities, and I thought them valuable to society."

The judge sentenced Srp, 50, to 16 months in prison. The group's secretary, Vladimir Kouril, was given a 10-month term.

Srp and Kouril have been held since Sept. 2, when seven leaders of the group were arrested. The other five were released in December and January.

Josef Skalnik, a graphic artist, was given a suspended 10-month term and three years probation. Tomas Krivanek and Cestmir Hunat were each given suspended terms of eight months and two years probation.

The five defendants faced a maximum term of eight years in prison.

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