William N. Oatis bigraphy, stories - American correspondent detained 1951-1953 by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia.

William N. Oatis : biography

January 14, 1914 - September 16, 1997

William Nathan Oatis (January 4, 1914 – September 16, 1997) was an American journalist who gained international attention when he was charged with espionage by the Czechoslovak government in 1951. He was subsequently jailed until 1953.

Later career

Oatis went on to cover the United Nations for three decades and retired in 1984 after a 47-year career at the AP. He was elected president of the United Nations Correspondents Association in 1970. (Accessed August 1, 2011). In 1992, Oatis was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame., Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Oatis died September 16, 1997 at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, New York from complications of Alzheimer's disease. (Accessed July 29, 2011) He was survived by his sons Jonathan and Jeremy. His wife Laurabelle died of natural causes on June 19, 2012, at the age of 88.

Early life

Born in Marion, Indiana, Oatis began his journalism career with his high school newspaper, studied at DePauw University for one year and in 1933 returned to Marion, where he worked for the Leader-Tribune. Associated Press obituary, September 16, 1997. In 1937, he started working for the Associated Press in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Oatis served in the U.S Army during World War II, studying Japanese at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. In 1950, he married Laurabelle Zack, who worked in the AP's reference library in New York.. Larry T. Nix, Library History Buff Blog, February 1, 2009. (Accessed July 28, 2011.) The marriage took place in London.England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005, v. 5c, p. 2419. Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010. Original data: General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office. © Crown copyright. Published by permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Office for National Statistics.

Arrest and detention

Oatis was working as the AP bureau chief in Prague, Czechoslovakia when he was arrested on April 23, 1951. Deprived of sleep and subjected to continuous interrogation for 42 hours, Oatis signed a statement confessing to the charge of espionage. Life, September 21, 1953, p. 131; p. 141. The case made international headlines, as well as leading to trade and travel embargos against Czechoslovakia.A petition for a "United Nations Writ of Habeas Corpus" was even filed with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Oatis by attorney Luis Kutner. , Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1962, p. 244. On July 4, 1951, a Czechoslovak court sentenced Oatis to ten years in prison. New York Times, July 5, 1951, page 1. He was released May 16, 1953, shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin and after an angry letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Czechoslovak government. Time, June 1, 1953. The Czechoslovak government said it had been moved to pardon Oatis by a poignant plea from Oatis' wife, Laurabelle. A Czechoslovak court cleared him of all charges in 1959, but the decision was reversed in 1968 after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. In 1990, after Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" the previous year, he was cleared again.Pace, Eric (September 17, 1997). , The New York Times.

The Voice of America called Oatis "the first American martyr to press freedom behind the Iron Curtain." The United States Department of State denounced the Czechoslovak verdict as a ludicrous travesty and the U.S. press said Oatis was condemned for no more than doing his job as a reporter. The case's Orwellian overtones were highlighted by the prosecution's assertion at the show trial that Oatis, a careful reporter, was "particularly dangerous because of his discretion and insistence on obtaining only accurate, correct, verified information." Oatis contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment and sought treatment shortly after his release. New York Times, May 27, 1953.

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