Former top Czechoslovak Communist officials prosecuted over pre-1989 border shootings

A prosecution has been launched of pre-1989 top Communist officials on suspicion of abuse of power over shootings and violence at the border


Written by ČTK Published on 26.11.2019 15:57:20 (updated on 26.11.2019) Reading time: 2 minutes

Prague, Nov 26 (CTK) – The police Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communism Crimes (UDV) has launched prosecution of pre-1989 top Communist officials Milos Jakes, Lubomir Strougal and Vratislav Vajnar on suspicion of abuse of power over shooting at the borders, Jan Lelek told CTK today.

Jakes, now 97, occupied the post of the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s (KSC) secretary general before the fall of the regime in late 1989, Strougal, 95, was the prime minister in 1977-1988 and Vajnar, 89, the interior minister in 1983-1988.

In reaction to a CTK question, supervisory state attorney Tomas Jarolimek said that the criminal prosecution was based on newly found archive documents.

All three men are prosecuted at liberty. If found guilty, they face up to ten years in prison.

They were aware of the fact that the border guards were using firearms against the people who were attempting to cross the border illegally to escape the Communist Czechoslovakia, but despite their positions as the country’s top representatives, they did not take any measures to prevent this practice, said Lelek, the head of the Prague 1 District State Attorney’s Office, supervising the case.

Nine people were shot dead or killed by dogs when trying to cross the Czechoslovak border and at least another seven were injured from March 1976 till the end of 1989 due to the passivity of the three top officials, according to the UDV investigators.

The police relates the beginning of the crime to 1976 as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) took effect then, which guaranteed the general right to leave any country freely, including one’s homeland.

Jakes and Strougal, as members of the KSC presidium, should have amended the legal regulations that enabled the use of firearms at state borders, according to the investigators.

“The Communist Party Central Committee’s presidium had provably a direct influence on the members of the government of Czechoslovakia and could instruct them what legal regulations should be modified or adopted, which it did in the sphere of the state border protection repeatedly, but not to prevent the use of firearms,” Lelek said.

Vajnar, as the federal interior minister, had the power to change the rights and duties of the Border Guard members by his orders, including their authorisation to use firearms, Lelek pointed out.

The accusation is a result of the assessment of a legal complaint filed against the former Communist politicians by the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, an organisation looking into the crimes of totalitarian regimes, Jarolimek said.

“Criminal prosecution was launched after the key archive documents were found, proving that the accused were informed about the shooting at the borders and that they gave direct instructions to the ministers about legal regulations to be adopted,” he said.

Jarolimek added that the current prosecution was connected with criminal proceedings in the Federal Republic of Germany. “We have set up a joint team with German prosecutors and drew inspiration from their cases from the 1990s and 2000s,” he added.

The Bavarian authorities are investigating the former members of the KSC leadership and Czechoslovak communist border guard officers on suspicion of four murders of citizens of East Germany attempting to cross the communist Czechoslovakia’s border with West Germany and Austria in 1967-1986.

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