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Germany: Prosecutions Of GDR Officials Coming To A Close

Munich, 6 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- German officials increasingly believe that the trials of former Communist functionaries are coming to a close.

A government spokesman in Bonn has recently said that while investigations are continuing against several other former East German officials, it is "doubtful" whether most would lead to prosecutions.

Those who have already been tried and convicted include east Germany's former spy chief Markus Wolf, top Communist party leaders, border guards who shot down East Germans trying to flee to the West and several lawyers who misused their position to help the communist state.

In several cases, the Bonn government was accused of practicing what is called "victor's justice," because offenses were legal under the laws of East Germany at that time. In some cases this defense was later accepted by appeals courts.

The latest case involved a judge and a state prosecutor who were responsible for the execution of two East German intelligence agents accused of espionage and planning to defect to the West. One was executed in Leipzig prison in 1979 and the other in the same prison in 1981. They were the last executions of the East German regime.

A Berlin court sentenced the 74-year-old former Judge Karl-Heinz Knoche to four years imprisonment on two charges of manslaughter and perversion of justice for ordering the death sentences. The 68-year-old former military prosecutor Hans Kadgien received the same sentence for perversion of justice by requesting the death sentence. Both have appealed the sentences.

The court found that the East German authorities were justified in accusing the intelligence officers of espionage, which was a grave offense under East German law. However it said the death sentences were "excessive" because the men had only prepared for espionage but not actually provided any material to the West.

The man executed in 1979, 42-year-old Major Gert Trebelja, was accused of having collected 30 secrets documents which he planned to hand to Western intelligence after he defected to West Berlin. One contained a list of 15 East German agents active in the West and the names of 150 East Germans who spied on their neighbors and workmates on behalf of the secret police.

The other officer, the 39-year-old Captain Werner Teske, had collected secret documents and had learned by heart the names of 18 East Germans who spied on their colleagues and neighbors for the secret police. He was executed in 1981. In both cases, the men were arrested before they could pass their information to the west.

From 1949 until the death penalty was abolished in July 1987, Eastern judges ordered 230 death sentences of which 159 were carried out. Until 1967, those convicted died under the guillotine. From 1968 the convicted were killed by a shot in the back of the neck.

Political analysts in Germany say various authorities are still moving against some former East German officials although the period of actual prosecutions is coming to an end. One well-publicized case involves Gregor Gysi, the leader in the federal parliament of the PDS, the successor party to the East German Communist Party.

Gysi was a lawyer in communist East Germany and represented several opposition leaders. He has been accused by various groups of having worked secretly with East German authorities to suppress the opposition. Efforts have been made to remove him from the federal parliament and to stop him practicing as a lawyer.

Yesterday Gysi scored a success when a Berlin court ruled that he could continue to practice as a lawyer despite the accusations against him. In another case, Gysi has gone to Germany's Constitutional Court to protest against a parliamentary committee's criticism of his activities as a lawyer in East Germany. A decision on that is expected later this month.

The Berlin justice authorities said Gysi was one of 535 former German lawyers who had been investigated since 1992. Only six have lost their license to practice.