Czech human rights activist Dana Nemcova dies aged 89

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Dana Nemcova, one of the leading Czech dissidents and human rights activists from the communist era, has died aged 89.

She died on Tuesday morning, according to the Olga Havel Foundation, a charitable organisation with which she was associated for many years. No details about the cause of death were given.

Born on January 14 1934, Ms Nemcova was one of the first people to sign Charter 77, a human rights manifesto inspired by Vaclav Havel, a fellow dissident who later became president. Ms Nemcova herself became a spokeswoman for the charter.

The document was a rare expression of resistance to the hard-line communist regime that took over after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia which crushed the liberal reform period known as the Prague Spring.

Its signatories braved persecution from the regime, exercising what Mr Havel dubbed ″the power of the powerless″.

Ms Nemcova, a mother of seven and a psychologist by profession, was among them.

In 1979, she spent six months in detention before receiving a two-year suspended sentence for subversion of the republic. She was banned from practising as a psychologist and only allowed to take menial jobs, such as cleaning.

Ms Nemcova and her husband, Jiri Nemec, turned their apartment in Prague into one of the centres of anti-communist resistance but had to face repeated interrogations and raids.

She once said that signing the charter was a means for her to “maintain identity and dignity”.

She co-founded the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted, which supported those facing oppression by the state, ranging from police harassment to unjust prosecution.

After the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution led by Mr Havel, Ms Nemcova served as a lawmaker in the parliament of Czechoslovakia until 1992.

She later chaired the board of the Olga Havel Foundation established by Mr Havel’s first wife, which focuses on helping disabled and abandoned people, as well as those facing discrimination.

In the 1990s, she established an information centre for refugees and a migration centre, working especially with those fleeing the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

In 1998, she was awarded a state honour by Mr Havel, who was by then president.

“Dana Nemcova was an extraordinary person, brave and deeply human who with her persistent and consistent defence of human rights contributed significantly to our freedom and democracy,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.

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