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Czech school accused of torturing pupils

Adam Lebor
Friday 20 November 1998 00:02 GMT

CZECH POLICE have closed a private school for troubled teenagers linked to a child- reform programme based in the United States after its American managers were arrested and charged with violations of human rights.

The Morava Academy in Brno was shut this week after police arrested the managers, Glenda and Steven Roach, both former police officers from Utah, as well as two Czech guards.

All four could face between two and eight years in prison for allegedly violating human rights, torturing and illegally imprisoning pupils. Charges could also be brought against the teenagers' parents for imprisoning them in the Czech Republic against their will, said Petr Netik, head of Brno's organised-crime police unit.

Staff allegedly used a range of punishments against pupils, including solitary confinement, handcuffing, enforced listening to audio and video tapes and threatening with a guard dog.

The academy, which opened last January and charged $1,790 (pounds 1,072) a month, held 57 pupils between 15 and 18. Children were held against their will, and deprived of psychological and medical help, Mr Netik said. They were kept for weeks in solitary confinement in cell-like rooms. Some were denied access to lavatories, he said.

Students were terrified of being sent back to the academy after police questioning, he said. "They swore, crossed themselves, and begged not to be sent back," he told the Prague Post newspaper.

Czech police were launching a joint inquiry into the case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They will examine links between the academy and its parent company, the Utah-based World Wide Association of Speciality Programmes (WWASP), US sources confirmed.

The arrests at the academy came after Hana Simonova, a former employee, told a child-protection agency in Prague of systematic abuse. Ms Simonova, who says she was sacked from the academy after reporting abuse, alleged that Ms Roach engaged in sadistic behaviour with pupils. She said were encouraged to punish pupils as much as possible. Parents were charged for each "violation" of rules by pupils.

Parents who arrived to collect their children praised the academy and denied that they were held against their will. WWASP president, Karr Farnsworth, denied that abuse had taken place. He said in Brno he was shocked at the allegations and said disgruntled former employees had made false claims.

He said his company was non-profit making and provided consulting services to schools offering behaviour-modification programmes. WWASP would offer parents alternative places for children. "This programme would generally not stay in the place where it's not welcome," he told the Prague Post.

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