By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA, Associated Press – Thu Jan 12, 11:37 am ET
WARSAW, Poland – A Polish court on Thursday handed a two-year suspended prison term to a communist-era interior minister for his role in implementing martial law in Poland in 1981.
The verdict is the latest effort by democratic Poland to hold communist-era officials accountable for abuses during their rule.
The Warsaw Provincial Court found retired Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak guilty on charges of membership in an armed criminal group that illegally declared the clampdown and violated the freedom of many Poles. The 86-year-old Kiszczak was absent from court.
The reading of the verdict was delayed by 90 minutes when a group of unruly activists with pictures of martial law victims and chants of "Murderer" filled the courtroom before the session.
In its ruling, the three-judge panel also acquitted former communist party leader Stanislaw Kania, because he resigned the position months before martial law was declared, and dropped the charges against a top party member, Eugenia Kempara, who did not have any active role in preparing the move.
The court said that Kiszczak, while a member of the then-communist government, used the state structures and armed forces to have thousands of Solidarity freedom movement activists imprisoned and beaten up, in some cases. Some 100 people lost their lives, among them nine miners, shot by the police, when they protested the clampdown.
Kiszczak's prison term was suspended for five years and is subject to appeal.
He had demanded the charges be dropped, arguing that he considered the matter closed after a special parliamentary commission decided in 1996 it did not qualify for a special court for top leaders, the State Tribunal.
The trial opened in 2008, after investigators of the state National Remembrance Institute charged Kiszczak, former communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and seven others with breaking the law when they declared martial law on Dec. 13, 1981. It was lifted in late 1983.
Jaruzelski, 88, who is sick with cancer, was excluded from the case due to ill health last summer, as were three others. Two other defendants have died.
Despite the martial law attempt, the nationwide Solidarity freedom movement, led by Lech Walesa, nonetheless prevailed and led the way to a peaceful transfer to democracy in 1989.
Jaruzelski argues the clampdown prevented Soviet intervention. He says Moscow was planning to invade, to crush Solidarity, seeing it a source of potential trouble and of Poland's economic downturn at the time.
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