A Czech Christian activist has been released from a Sudan prison where he was serving a 20-year- sentence after an intervention on the ground by foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek. Back home, the liberated Petr Jašek looked bright but appearances belied the ordeal he has undergone.
The intervention on the ground by the Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek eventually secured a pardon from Sudan president Omar Al-Bashir for the 52-year-old Czech Christian activist.
Mr. Zaorálek explained that the promise to re-launch frozen relations between Prague and Khartoum was one of the key factors that secured Petr Jašek’s release:
“I have registered a re-start with Khartoum on the areas we have agreed. These were areas where we were more or less already cooperating before these events took place. That has contributed to the release of Mr. Jašek.”
The areas covered by the re-start are economic, security relations, migration, counter terrorism, and safeguarding cultural monuments. Sudan’s foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour highlighted upcoming visits by Czech members of parliament and business delegations.
Petr Jašek described late on Sunday night in Prague his reaction to the sudden turn of events:
“Of course, I am overjoyed that after fourteen-and-a-half moths I am once again home in the Czech Republic. I have to say how really proud I felt today to be a Czech citizen when at the Sudan airport I saw our plane, with our flag and emblem.”
Just a month ago, it all looked very different as Jašek was found guilty on all counts by a Sudan court, including spying and inciting hatred, and received a 20 year sentence. The Czech foreign ministry maintained all along that the charges against him had been trumped up.
Most of the charges related to an incident where the Czech tried a help a Christian student who had been badly burnt in a local demonstration, including raising funds to help cover his medical treatment.
The Czech described how the first days of his detention and imprisonment were the worst. As a Christian he was at first verbally insulted by other prisoners and then beaten by them – some of them being reportedly Islamic militants formerly linked to Osama Bin Laden.
At one stage he was in a small police cell with ten others. At one prison he was confined in a cell nicknamed the fridge, where the guards deliberately targeted ice cold air at the inmates. The hygiene conditions were appalling, at one stage 100 men sharing one toilet with no flushing water.
Jašek went on an eight-day hunger strike after he was refused contact both with his family and Czech officials trying to secure his safety and release.
The Czech’s plight resulted in a petition signed by 400,000 people from around the world calling for his release. But it was the work of Czech diplomats working out of Cairo and helped by Swiss colleagues that appears to have laid the foundation for the release.