The Czech Helsinki CommitteeOn the eve of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meeting in Prague, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) issued a statement condemning employment practices at Prague-based, BBG-run Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). The statement describes the treatment of foreign employees at the U.S. government-funded international broadcaster in the Czech Republic as “immoral.” The Czech Helsinki Committee statement on RFE/RL in Czech, in English.

During the Cold War, Helsinki Committee reports from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe — defending human rights and dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, and Vaclav Havel — were bread and butter of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcasts to countries behind the Iron Curtain. Since the end of the Cold War and the move of RFE/RL headquarters from Munich to Prague, the Washington-based Broadcasting Board of Governors has gone along with new regulations that allow RFE/RL managers to treat non-American and non-Czech foreign journalists and other foreign employees as second-class citizens without recourse to key Czech or American labor laws and protections against unfair management practices. The irony of the Czech Helsinki Committee criticizing the American government’s broadcasting organization for human rights violations is a public diplomacy embarrassment for the United States.

Anna Karapetian
Journalist Anna Karapetian is suing RFE/RL in Czech courts for discrimination

Two women formerly employed by RFE/RL and dismissed without a cause are currently suing the U.S. broadcaster for discrimination based on national origin. Anna Karapetian is an Armenian journalist and Snjezana Pelivan is a media marketing specialist who is a citizen of Croatia. Karapetian’s case is being reviewed in Czech courts. Pelivan appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In its statement, the Czech Helsinki Committee describes in detail the ongoing court odyssey of Anna Karapetian whose case will be handled by Czech judges for the sixth time:

“Mrs. Karapetian in her court application sought the decision rendering her employment termination invalid and, in particular, the invalidity of the clause concerning the choice of law. The courts of the first and second levels rejected her request; however, the Supreme Court cancelled the decision of two lower courts and returned her case to the court of first level. Then, in November 2010, that Court satisfied her request to declare the termination invalid and did so due to invalidity of the choice of law clause. The Court of Appeals did not share the position taken by the lower court, changed its decision and rejected the plaintiff’s claim. Now the case will be considered again by the Supreme Court. … In case of Snjezana Pelivan, the courts did not satisfy the request to declare her termination invalid; this is the reason why Mrs. Pelivan has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Snjezana Pelivan
Snjezana Pelivan is suing RFE/RL and BBG for discrimination in the European Court of Human Rights

Pelivan’s case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is against the Czech Republic as the country that tolerates human rights violations practiced on its territory by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Croatian Times newspaper reported that Pelivan had officially requested the government of Croatia to support her legal claim against the Czech Republic and RFE/RL. Snjezana Pelivan asks Croatian government to support her legal claim in StrasbourgCroatian Times

Last March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Mr. Steven Korn visited Armenia. A day prior to his arrival in Yerevan, the Armenian mass media, print and electronic, circulated Anna Karapetian’s appeal, “Stripped of Rights Journalists Daily Herald about Human Rights on Liberty Airwaves. Open Letter to Those Who Will Receive President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Steven Korn in Yerevan”.

Anna Karapetian asked everyone who was going to meet with Mr.Korn to raise the issue of hundreds of foreign employees discriminated in Prague by RFE/RL. Anna Karapetian, mother of three minor children, wrote: “Over five years I sue the RFE/RL concerning my illegal termination and national discrimination of the Radio’s foreign personnel in the Czech Republic. Does it at all bother RFE/RL president Mr. Korn if RFE/RL acted properly or not?”

Reporting on the Czech Helsinki Committee statement concerning human rights violations at RFE/RL, CTK, the largest Czech news organization, informed matter- of- factly: “The aim of RFE/RL is to support the spread of democracy in the world.” Earlier the Czech national newspaper Lidove novine editorialized: ”Prague headquarters of RFE/RL, which pretends to be a messenger of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, behaves as an employer in such a way as if the principles it heralds are relevant ‘just’ for the whole planet but not for what is going on inside that estimable organization itself.” The CTK report was published in English in Prague Daily Monitor: “Czech Helsinki Committee criticises RFE/RL over job contracts

The Czech Helsinki Committee is chaired by Anna Sabatova, the winner of the United Nations Human Rights Prize (1998) bestowed also upon Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, and such organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Together with the late Vaclav Havel, Anna Sabatova, a former political prisoner in communist Czechoslovakia, co-founded Charter 77. Charter 77 criticized the Czechoslovak communist government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed, including the Final Act of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Basket III of the Helsinki Accords). The Czech Helsinki Committee, originally The Czechoslovak Helsinki
Committee (CsHV) was founded in November 1988.

Appointed by the U.S. President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, nine members (currently seven) running the Broadcasting Board of Governors include ex officio the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They also serve as the exclusive Board of Directors of RFE/RL. RFE/RL is the largest American civil institution abroad financed by U.S. Congress. BBG controls and directs all American non-military broadcasters aimed at foreign audiences, “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL,” and “provides worldwide personnel management policies, programs, and services.”

The published agenda for the BBG meeting in Prague on June 6-7 does not include a discussion of discrimination lawsuits and employment practices at RFE/RL.