Human rights fighter Jiri Dienstbier dies in hospital

Dienstbier with former Slovak foreign minister Eduar Kukan

One of the leading figures of the 1989 Velvet Revolution and former Czechoslovak dissident Jiri Dienstbier died in hospital on yesterday, 9 January, at the age of 73. He had been battling with illness for some time.

Dienstbier was the first foreign minister of Czechoslovakia following the 1989 revolution, and was said to have been politically active right up till his death. Back in the 1960s, Dienstbier was a foreign correspondent for Czechoslovak radio in Washington, but with the Soviet occupation of former Czechoslovakia in 1968 he started to stand firmly on the side of dissidents. He was also a key figure and spokesman for the Charter 77 movement along with Vaclav Havel.

Dienstbier spent 3 years in jail from 1979 till 1982 for fighting in defence of those who had themselves been unjustly persecuted during communism.

Many political and public figures have already expressed their bereavement and loss, including renowned Slovak politician Jan Carnogursky, who lamented: “I have lost a good friend” and Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who classed Dienstbier as as a true gentleman and a crucial figure in the Velvet Revolution.

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