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23 August 2001 Edition

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Supergrass system alive and well in Germany

PAUL O'NEILL highlights the plight of a number of people imprisoned in Germany through the authorities' use of a ``paid perjurer'' system. O'Neill is chairperson of Tar Isteach, a republican ex-prisoner support group based in the New Lodge area of Belfast and was himself imprisoned on the word of paid perjurer Christopher Black. He became aware of the situation while visiting Germany on business for Coiste na nIarchimí.

Today in Germany, a number of people are standing trial in Berlin on the basis of the evidence of a single witness obtained under special state witness regulations. These so called `anti terrorist' prosecutions are allowed under section 129/129a of the German criminal code. The accused have already spent a lengthy period on remand and if convicted will face heavy terms of imprisonment.

Harald Glode, Axel Haug, Sabine Eckle and Mattias Borgmann are on trial for membership of the organisation `Revolutionare Zellen' (Revolutionary Cells) and for allegedly participating in various armed actions. The RZ defined its actions as anti-imperialist. Although the Revolutionary Cells were active in Germany during the 1970s and the 1980s, the group disbanded some six years ago. During its active period, the Federal Public Prosecutors Office failed to deliver a single successful prosecution against the group.

The sole basis for the prosecutions is the uncorroborated testimony of a man called Tarek Mousli. He has admitted to once being an activist with the Revolutionary Cells and in return for his `cooperation' he has been given a light sentence and entrance into a `Witness Sheltering Program', where he is paid money and receives other material inducements.

While the use of this type of evidence is in itself a highly dubious practice, other particularly alarming aspects of this trial are the timing and the political context of the prosecutions.

Since the general dissolution of Germany's armed revolutionary groupings in the late 1980s, Section 129/129a has remained in use to control `non terrorist' extra-parliamentary groups such as the anti-nuclear movement, peace campaigns, animal rights groups, squatters and in particular anti-racist and anti-fascist movements.

Indeed, it has come as no surprise to critics of the state witness system that some of the accused were actively engaged in anti-racist work in Berlin prior to their arrest, namely Harald Glode and Axel Haug. To supporters of the accused, the blatantly political nature of the trial has confirmed that the law is simply being used by the state to control and eliminate any form of radical opposition or alternative movements. However, fear of being seen in some way or other to support `terrorism' appears to have rendered the general German public mute on this issue and has allowed the state a relatively free hand.

Based on my own experience, I have a good knowledge of how this type of state witness system works. From 1981 until 1986, others and myself were imprisoned on the uncorroborated word of an admitted perjurer and paid liar, Christopher Black. We were initially found `guilty' in a blaze of sensationalist media coverage, which conveniently ignored or deliberately misunderstood the hard facts of the case.

In order to justify our prosecution, we the accused were portrayed as a bunch of mindless, evil psychopaths, while our accuser was merely a misguided part-saint, part-dupe. When we were sentenced, the `Supergrass' system, just like its internment forerunner, was described as an unfortunate but necessary weapon to save democracy against terrorism.

However, the Crown Court of Appeal was eventually forced to release us (without any compensation or apology) because the appeal judges could not explain away the blatant lies, contradictions and discrepancies contained in Black's evidence. The judges were also assisted in arriving at their `not guilty' verdict by the barrage of international criticism levelled at the so-called `Supergrass' system, which had been in widespread use in the Six Counties at that time.

While believers in the liberal capitalist system argue that the law is neutral and preach to us of how it equally safeguards the rights of all the citizenry against abuses, from our own experiences of British law here in Ireland we know at first hand how the law is used as a weapon of oppression in the arsenal of the state. However, in case there is any doubt, we need only look at the views of a pillar of the British establishment, Brigadier Frank Kitson, whose books on counter insurgency became the cornerstone of British strategy in the North. Kitson advocated that: ``The law should be used as just another weapon in the government's arsenal and in this case become little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. The activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war activities in as discreet a way as possible.''

While people here may feel that Germany is hundreds of miles away and is none of our concern, we should remember that Germany is the leading partner in the European Union, of which we are a part. Therefore, what happens in Germany has wider European implications and so it is very much our business and should be of concern to us.

Indeed, in recent times in another one of our European partner states, namely Italy, we have witnessed the use of indiscriminate brutality by Italian police against those who dared to challenge the global capitalist, social and economic status quo. This time this brutality culminated in cold-blooded murder in front of television cameras. These events have led to allegations of fascist infiltration of the Italian police. Should this state of affairs not concern us also?

Meanwhile in Turkey, ally of the `free world' and infamous for its human rights abuses, political prisoners are brutally murdered, tortured and as I write are dying with their relatives on mass hunger strike in order to be treated with basic humanity. Nevertheless, there is a general silence in the West and Turkey retains its potential to become another one of our `democratic' partners in the European Union.

In the global village that the world has become, it is no longer possible to ignore what is going on around us. We should not be oblivious to injustice, particularly when those who would claim to be the upholders of freedom and democracy are perpetrating abuses and cruelty. Whether it is in Europe or any other part of the world, our self-proclaimed masters should be made aware that when they use repressive measures and support cruel regimes they cannot do it in our name and they cannot use the cover of democracy for their own corrupt ends.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1