Court in Berlin Refuses to Free Ailing Honecker
A Berlin court Thursday ordered Erich Honecker to remain behind bars pending trial for manslaughter, saying that to free him for medical reasons would pose too high a risk that the cancer-stricken former East German Communist leader would try to flee.
Lawyers for Honecker, 80, accused the District Court of bowing to “political pressure” and expressed doubt that Honecker could withstand the expected two-year journey through the judicial process.
Honecker, who supervised construction of the Berlin Wall, is charged with 49 counts of manslaughter for allegedly ordering his security forces to “shoot to kill” any East Germans trying to escape to the West across the Wall.
Doctors have diagnosed Honecker’s condition as inoperable liver cancer.
“This decision proves that the court wants to pursue the case against Honecker in a race with death,” defense attorney Nicolas Becker told reporters after the 3 1/2-hour hearing behind closed doors.
Honecker did not appear in court Thursday.
The 50-page ruling denied a petition to release Honecker from Berlin’s Moabit Prison on medical grounds pending trial, which is expected to get under way this fall.
"(Honecker’s) connections abroad would continue to offer him the possibility to flee,” the court held.
Honecker was toppled in the 1989 anti-Communist revolution that opened the Berlin Wall and quickly led to German unification. He fled to Moscow in March, 1991, to escape prosecution and then took refuge in the Chilean Embassy there when Russia agreed to Bonn’s demands that the fugitive be returned.
After a seven-month tug of war, Honecker returned to Germany on July 29.