The Czech Republic’s oldest prisoner, Ludmila Brožová-Polednová, received a full pardon from President Václav Klaus on Tuesday and was promptly released from prison, bringing a definitive end to one of the most controversial justice cases in the post-revolution Czech Republic. The 89-year-old communist era prosecutor ultimately served one year and seven months of a six-year sentence for her part in the 1950 state execution of democratic politician Milada Horáková, and remained defiant even as she left the prison gates.
A fax came through from the office of the president on Tuesday afternoon, and with that, Ludmila Brožová-Polednová was freed from prison, one day after her 89th birthday. Such was the unexpected nature of her release that her family was unavailable to collect her for several more hours.
Thus ended a hotly-debated story of post-revolution Czech justice. On one end of the debate was an elderly and ostensibly ill woman, brought to trial more than half a century after her state-sanctioned crimes and 16 years after the fall of the communist regime. On the other were the stark facts of the judicial tyranny to which Ms Brožová-Polednová was a willing party, culminating in the state murder of a tremendously courageous and unrepentant patron of democracy, 48-year-old Milada Horáková. The image of Brožová-Polednová sitting in the same Pankrác Prison where she had watched Horáková hanged 60 years ago was a perfectly fitting one for many Czechs.
But Brožová-Polednová was entirely unrepentant as she left the prison gate on Tuesday evening. It was right, she said, that the president had pardoned her, as she never should have been there in the first place, and even as she left her five-year legal battle behind for good, she reminded the press that she had merely been an intern attorney, forced into proceedings for which the other judges bore responsibility, not her. Adding insult to injury against those who will feel she has escaped justice, she also went on to disparage the truthful integrity with which Horáková had stared down her accusers, indicating that the lawyer and politician might have saved her life had she not candidly defended her “acts of treason”.
While indeed she was not the main party responsible for the execution of Milada Horáková (having apparently been chosen for the role only to ward off public sympathy for a female defendant in the hands of a male judge), Brožová-Polednová was the only prosecutor left to prosecute, and she had other soviet-style showcases to her name, such as one that sent a number of Catholic functionaries to decades in prison. It was only in 2006 that the state prosecutor returned the case of Horáková and her three murdered colleagues to the police and Brožová-Polednová was formally charged. The case went through the courts for two years, frustrated by technical questions of the statute of limitations and ethical questions regarding her age and state of health. In 2008 she was sentenced to 6 years in prison, less than the minimum required sentence, and President Klaus at that time refused her petition for a pardon, saying the decision was an important milestone for justice in a country with such a history of tragedy.
Whatever the president’s private stance on the matter, his official decision-making has switched from judicial to humanitarian grounds. The president’s pardon cited the prisoner’s advanced age, her poor health and the fact that her sentence had been served in part. The timing however suggests a desire to show mercy as well, as the country’s oldest prisoner was likely to serve only four more months thanks to a recent sentence reduction based on past amnesties.
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