Poland relives martial law in former leader's trial

15th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nearly three decades after martial law, Jaruzelski's trial still raises emotions.

Warsaw -- Former Polish leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski went on trial last week charged with communist-era crimes in the 1981 martial-law crackdown aimed at breaking the Solidarity trade union.

Prosecutors allege that Jaruzelski, 85, led a "criminal armed organization" when he and other communist leaders created an emergency ruling body under martial law, media reports said.

He could face 10 years in prison if found guilty of directing the suppression. He denies committing any crime.

Seven other former communist party and military officials are also defendants at the Warsaw trial, launched after much legal wrangling.

Jaruzelski has long claimed that martial law was necessary to avoid a Soviet invasion, and that his decision saved Poland from a national catastrophe.

No former Polish leaders have been convicted of crimes since the December 1981 crackdown, when thousands of Solidarity activists and other dissidents were jailed and up to 100 people died.

The trial went ahead even though a key defendant, former interior minister Czeslaw Kiszczak, was absent on grounds of poor health.

Prosecutors from Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, set up to investigate Nazi and communist-era crimes, presented the indictment at Friday's court session.

Testimony from the defendants was scheduled for the next court date, Sept. 25.

Nearly three decades after martial law, Jaruzelski's trial still raised emotions.

Gazeta Wyborcza, a center-right daily, said the retired general and his former aides were being treated "like gangsters."

The Democratic Left Alliance, which grew out of Poland's old communist party, called the trial "revenge and retribution."

A Polish court in June quashed earlier rulings for new evidence in Jaruzelski's trial, including calls for additional documents from Russian archives and interviews with leaders, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He was tried in 2001 for a 1970s massacre in the Gdansk shipyards but the proceedings petered out after he claimed health problems.

Jaruzelski helped set Poland on the road to democracy in the late 1980s by opening a dialogue with the anti-communist opposition.

In 1989, he was democratically elected president. He gave up his office a year later and retired from political life.


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