East Germany's political prisoners raise West's hackles

A relatively constant 4,500 political prisoners remain in East German jails, the West Berlin "August 13 Working Group" estimates, despite the quiet "ransom" of about 1,200 a year by the West German government.

The monitoring committee, named after the date of the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, gave its current analysis on the occassion of German Unity Day, on which West Germany commemorates the suppressed uprising of East Berlin workers on June 17, 1953.

Amnesty International has givena similar estimate of between 3,000 and 7,000 East Germans imprisoned for political reasons.

East German Party and State Chief Erich Honecker has rejected the charges as "crude lies."

According to the August 13 Working Group, the number of East German convictions for "instigations hostile to the state" has risen recently, apparently in reaction to the feared liberalization in neighboring Poland.

AT a Berlin press conference sponsored by the group, political prisoners who have recently been released and allowed to emigrate to West Germany described jail conditions as generally tolerable, though there is a lack of vitamins and protein in their diets. They added that prisoners' compulsory work norms run up to 300 percent higher than ordinary work norms.

In its recent report, Amnesty international identified several violations of human rights in East Germany, including:

* Legal curbs on normal freedoms of opinion, expression, and emigration;

* Persecution and court conviction of those who do not heed the curbs, even when the offenders are nonviolent;

* Cases of inhumane treatment of political prisoners;

* Continued use of the death sentence (122 executions between 1950 and 1976);

* Inadequate food and medical care;

* The virtual impossibility for any prisoner to lodge complaints.

In reference to East German political imprisonment, West German Christian Democratic opposition leader Helmut Kohl took the occasion of German unity day to criticize violation of human rights and lack of popular support for the government in East Germany. Social Democratic chief Willy Brandt and Free Democratic chief (and Foreign Minister) Hans-Dietrich Genscher, by contrast, emphasized the need for continued East-West German dialogue and peace.

West Germany's three main political parties and the government itself are all united, however, in protesting one East German political innovation this month -- direct election of representatives to the East German legislature by East Berliners. The three Western powers of the US, Britain, and France have also objected to this practice, terming it a violation of the four-power agreement of 1971 for the administration of Berlin.

In an inventive compromise between the Soviet-East German view (that East Berlin is an integral part of East Germany) and the Western view (that all four World War II allies still administer all of Berlin, both East and West), the quadripartite agreement specifies simply that "the situation that has developed" in Berlin "will not be unilaterally altered."

In accord with the Western interpretation West Berliners do not directly elect members of parliament to the West German bundestag. Instead, West Berlin representatives are appointed by the West Berlin city government.

East Berlin followed the same pattern until this year, when East Berliners voted directly in the East German Volkshammer election of June 14.

In this poll some 99.86 percent of the votes went to the uncontested list of nominees led by the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party. The East German Volkskammer (Peole's Chamber) meets twice a year and almost always passes unanimously the proposals of committees under Communist leadership.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to East Germany's political prisoners raise West's hackles
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today