PRAGUE -- Petr Uhl, a Czech journalist who was one of the country's leading communist-era dissidents and human rights activists, has died at 80.
His wife, former Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova, told the CTK agency he died Wednesday. Uhl headed the national news agency in the early 1990s following the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution led by the late Vaclav Havel, a fellow anti-communist dissident who became the country’s president.
Born Oct 8, 1941, in Prague, Uhl graduated from the Czech Technical University in 1963.
Known for his left-wing political views, Uhl was a high school teacher when he was first arrested in 1969 as a member of the Revolutionary Youth Movement. The group opposed the hard-line Communist regime that took over the country after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the liberal reform period known as the Prague Spring.
He received a four-year prison term.
Uhl was one of the organizers of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto inspired by Havel, a rare voice of resistance at the time, and published a samizdat journal about it. He also co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted that published news about communist persecutions.
For his activities, he was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion in 1979 together with other leading dissidents, including Havel, Jiri Dienstbier and Vaclav Benda.
The last time he was jailed was on Nov 19, 1989, two days after a student march that kicked off the Velvet Revolution in which he said a student was killed in the protest that was brutally surpressed by the police, which was not true.
Several days later, he apologized for that mistake in front of a huge crowd during one of the biggest rallies in Prague that contributed to the collapse of communism in his country.
After 1989, he stood by minorities and other disadvantaged groups, such as gay people, Roma, women, children and refugees. In 1990, he took over the CTK agency, starting its change to becoming a reliable source of information.
Jiri Majstr, the CTK's current director general, said Uhl had “laid the foundations for its transition from the state-run to the public agency.”
Uhl also served as a lawmaker and the government envoy for human rights, worked for several newspapers and journals and was a member of the Green Party. He was awarded several Czech, Polish, German and French (the Legion of Honor) decorations.
Besides his wife, Uhl is survived by daughter Sasa and two sons, Michal and Pavel.