37 years ago, a student of medicine Ludmila Cervanova was murdered. She was the daughter of Colonel Cervan who took part in several secret missions in Arab countries.
In 1976 a frantic police investigation to find the killers was on. The then president of Czechoslovakia Gustav Husak became personally engaged in resolving the crime. What followed were dozens of interrogations of those detained and charged in the case. There was blackmail, manipulation, false confessions, withholding of information, all coupled with massive propaganda in the media.
After five years of investigation, the socialist judiciary system condemned a group of seven young men in 1981. They received cumulative 108 years in prison. There were three death sentences proposed, which they only narrowly escaped. Each one of the defendants served a long sentence in Czechoslovakia’s highest security prisons - all without credible evidence and testimonies.
The Velvet Revolution of 1989 brought a new promise for a retrial. In 2004 the court upheld the sentences for the defendants – despite new evidence proving their innocence. Today, there are seven middle-aged men whose lives have been destroyed. They have lost the fight with the Slovak judiciary system, yet still continue to fight for their innocence, to clear their names. They are awaiting the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights – the last instance to decide whether they will die as murderers.
They claim that they were caught up in the communist regime’s political and judicial conspiracy.
To prove to the public and the courts that they are the victims of a judicial conspiracy, they took a polygraph examination.
The test results: Not a single lie was detected.
Judicial crime or mistake?
Judicial manipulation, secret service games, physical and mental torture, blackmail of witnesses, hiding of the truth, massive propaganda, covered-up evidence, abuse of power, law and justice… All this comes together in the longest unresolved case of Czechoslovak justice that began on a sunny day in 1976. In criminal records it is referred to as CERVANOVA CASE.
Týmto všetkým je opradený najdlhší prípad v dejinách československej justície, ktorý sa začal jedného letného dňa v roku 1976 a vo vyšetrovacích spisoch má názov: KAUZA CERVANOVÁ.
THEY SAID ABOUT THE CASE
František Čerman, sentenced
They arrested me with the others based on a story fabricated by the police.
Milan Andrašík, sentenced
I have signed a confession. That’s the truth of the matter. It was my self-preservation reflex. That’s all. You want to survive; you don’t know what to do. During the pre-trial proceedings I was subjected to inhumane treatment and deprecation. They used all forms of psychological and physical violence against me. It was unbearable.
Pavol Beďač, sentenced, closing remarks in front of the court in 2004
Here are the statistics: Those found guilty – 7, their combined sentence – 108 years without the possibility of parole. Proposed – 3 death sentences. 5 persons emigrated as a result of this case. 4 crown witnesses were beaten during interrogation. 21 witnesses were subjected to continual psychological pressure and blackmail. 2 female witnesses suffered miscarriage during interrogation with the investigators who knew that the women were pregnant. 1 female witness held in jail and terrorized while breastfeeding, 2 other witnesses charged with assault on an officer – their punishment for telling the truth about the case. I was 27 years old when arrested by the police thugs, charged without a shred of evidence and put in jail. And because I had not perpetrated any criminal acts against the well-being or life, I was accused. I became a hostage of my decency. I don’t owe anything to anyone. I have no apologies to make for anything I did. I am the creditor in this case, only trying to defend my dignity.
Viera Zimáková, witness
The investigators created an atmosphere as if it was all pre-conceived. As if they just needed a person to say – yes, I was there with so and so. It was really awful where they took me. Cobwebs everywhere, mice running all over the place. There were horrible Turkish toilets… What happened next was a serious psychological moment for me - they kept me away from my child that I was breastfeeding. She was not used to anything else, only my milk. I was worried what would happen to her. They locked me up again in the retention cell. This is how my other witness account came to be...
Hassan Hussein Awni, former Arab student and witness
He who tells the truth will not be happy. Nobody likes the truth. When you are right and walk along quietly, nobody notices you. When you act as a fox, people are afraid and avoid you. (Arab proverb)
Otakar Motejl, the first Czech public rights defender, counsel of Miloš Kocúr
The law is an attempt for justice. When applying this law, we should strive to bring about justice. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it does not. I’d probably step down rather than to convict… If I had to convict.
Luba Lesná, investigative journalist
The murder of Ludmila Cervanova took place on July 9th, 1976. It was a great tragedy for her family and friends. Today, more than 35 years later it still traumatizes the Slovak society.