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"Terrorist" trial reveals lack of evidence after two years on remand
01 December 2001
Instead of proving the guilt of the people charged with "membership of a terrorist organisation", the Berlin RZ trial is starting to reveal questionable police and prosecution methods and apparent bias of the court. Civil liberties groups warn of a miscarriage of justice and demanding the release of the accused.
More than five months after the second start of the trial against five people charged under Germany's anti-terrorist regulations (see Statewatch vol 11 no 2), demands are increasingly being voiced to halt the proceedings and free the accused. The Berlin trial, on grounds of "membership of a terrorist organisation" was contested from the start, on the grounds of serious doubts about the credibility of Tarek M., the only witness. Six people were incriminated by the alleged former member of the "Revolutionary Cells" (RZ); one of them, Lothar E., is resident in Canada with an outstanding extradition procedure against him. Tarek M.'s evidence however has proven to be contradictory and was obtained using questionable police and public prosecution methods under the Crown Witness Regulation (CWR). The CWR grants lighter sentences and financial support to people charged with severe crimes, if they incriminate others enabling the prosecution to secure more convictions. The terrorist organisation referred to, the RZ, conducted several bomb attacks against buildings and shot two officials working in the asylum procedure process in the 1980's.
The second attempt to try the accused started on 17 May this year, after the first attempt (from 22 March to 12 April) was interrupted after three days, when the Supreme Court granted the request by the Bundesanwaltschaft (BAW) to link the prosecution of Rudolf S. to the other four people in Berlin and ordered a retrial. The proceedings so far have been marked by many irregularities and arguments between the court and the prosecution on one side, and the defence on the other. Four of the five accused have been imprisoned on remand for almost two years now. Axel H., Harald G. and Sabine E. were arrested on 19.12.99 and Rudolf S., has been imprisoned since 14.11.99, before he was acquitted of having taken part in the bombing of the OPEC conference in 1975. He was released after his acquittal, but imprisoned again, on grounds of being the "ringleader" of the RZ, which, the prosecution argued, had a special cell in Berlin. The court has repeatedly denied applications for bail.
Sabine E., Matthias B., Harald G. and Axel H. have been charged with "membership of a terrorist organisation", Rudolf S., who was acquitted of that charge in Frankfurt on 14 February this year, was recharged with being the "ringleader" of the same organisation. All are charged with having planned a bomb attack on the Foreigner's Office dealing with social security matters for asylum seekers (Zentrale Sozialhilfestelle für Asylbewerber, ZSA) in Berlin in 1987. Matthias, Harald and Axel are further charged with a bomb attack on the Siegessaeule in Berlin. Central to the trial are two incidents, which are statute-barred crimes and therefore cannot be included in the charges, but in relation to which evidence is heard in great detail in court in order to prove the "membership" charges. These are the shootings of Harald Hollenberg (the former chair of the Berlin Foreigners Office, October 1986) and Günter Korbmacher (the then presiding judge of the Federal Constitutional Court, September 1987). Although these crimes are now under the statute of limitations, the prosecution has argued they represent the "dangerous nature" of the RZ, and therefore apparently the dangerous nature of the suspects.
Several aspects to this trial have been highlighted by civil liberties groups and defence lawyers as grounds for dismissing the case. On the one hand, these are related to the special provisions of Germany's terrorist legislation which have led to the violation of the legal principle of a fair trial in that the d