This day in history

1997 East German leader guilty of Berlin Wall deaths

A court in Berlin has sentenced the former East German leader, Egon Krenz, to six-and-a-half years in prison.

Krenz, 59, was convicted of instigating a shoot-to-kill policy employed by border guards against people trying to flee East Germany.

He was convicted on four specimen charges of incitement to manslaughter relating to people who were shot dead as they tried to escape to West Germany via the Berlin Wall.

Two other former members of the East German leadership, Günther Kleiber and Günther Schabowski, were sentenced to three years in prison.

Around 1,000 people were killed trying to escape to the West after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 – it came down in 1989.

For much of the 1980s Krenz was a key member of the National Defence Council which decided border policy.

Krenz, who always maintained that the court had no right to try him, stood impassively as he was sentenced.

After sentencing Krenz was handcuffed and taken into custody through a back door, avoiding reporters waiting at the front.

Speaking to the press after Krenz had been taken away his lawyer, Robert Unger, announced his client would appeal.

Throughout the 18-month trial he remained unrepentant, saying both victims and perpetrators had been hostages to the Cold War.

Mr Krenz succeeded his mentor, Erich Honecker, as East German leader in 1989.

In an attempt to bolster the Communist regime in the face of mass protests, he decided to open the wall on 9 November that year.

He was ousted by the party a few weeks later.

East Germany and West Germany merged the following year.

Since unification hundreds of former East German border guards and officials have been convicted for shootings at the former border. The trial of Krenz and his comrades is likely to be the last high-profile trial of leaders of the former East Germany.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

Egon Krenz did not go to jail immediately, pending the outcome of an appeal.

Krenz argued that he could not be convicted in the newly reunited Germany because he had been living at the time under the laws of East Germany.

But in 1999 a court rejected his case and he began his prison sentence in January 2000.

He later appealed to the European Court of Human Rights but lost.

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