Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Judge says Polish prosecutors must revise indictment against last communist leader

Prosecutors must revise their indictment against Poland's last communist leader and other former officials for imposing martial law in 1981, a court ruled Wednesday in a decision that could delay indefinitely a trial of the elderly defendants.

It remains unclear whether the men, some of whom are in poor health, will ever face trial for the crackdown, which put tanks on Polish streets and thousands of pro-democracy activists in internment camps.

The Warsaw regional court granted a defense motion that requires prosecutors to fill in gaps in the current indictment or prepare a new one against 84-year-old Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and eight other former communist officials, court spokesman Wojciech Malek said.

"In the court's opinion the evidence presented by prosecutors is only a fragment of the possible evidence that should be presented, and more evidence should be sought that will have an essential role in deciding the case," Malek said.

Prosecutors from the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes, will appeal the ruling, institute spokesman Andrzej Arseniuk said.

The court recommended that prosecutors interview leading foreign politicians of the period — the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig — to determine the international context of the communist leadership's decision to impose the crackdown, Malek said.

The court should also include the opinion of a team of historians on the historical context of the crackdown, he said.

Jaruzelski, who appeared in court Wednesday wearing a gray suit and his signature dark glasses, has long defended his decision to impose martial law. He has said it was the only way to forestall the Soviet Union from invading to crack down on the pro-democracy Solidarity labor union movement itself.

Early on Dec. 13, 1981, secret police and militia rounded up and jailed democratic activists. Tanks and armored transports rumbled through Polish cities, armed soldiers patrolled the streets and authorities cut phone lines.

Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who was jailed during the clampdown, told TVN24 television that putting the former communist leaders on trial "is not about inflicting punishment. It's about clarifying and cleansing for future generations."

"We have to do this so that nobody comes up with the same idea in the future," he said.

Prosecutors charged Jaruzelski and the other ex-officials in March 2006 with violating the constitution and with leading an "organized criminal group of a military nature having as its goal the carrying out of crimes that consisted of the deprivation of freedom through internment."

Jaruzelski spent a few weeks in a hospital in February with heart problems and pneumonia before undergoing a minor procedure to stabilize his heart in March, and looked frail in the courtroom Wednesday.