Czech Police launch investigation into former high-ranking Communist officials for shootings on the borders

Press release

Prague, 27 November – The Office of the Documentation and the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism of the Police of the Czech Republic officially launched a prosecution on 26 November 2019 against the former high-ranking Communist politburo members for the shooting of civilians on the Czechoslovak borders in the period of 1976 – 1989. The prosecution is based on the Platform’s criminal complaint against the last surviving Czechoslovak politburo members and further persons for killing on the borders, which was delivered to the office of the Supreme State Prosecutor of the Czech Republic in Brno in 2017.

The prosecution is initiated for abuse of power by Mr Milouš Jakeš, former general secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Lubomír Štrougal, former prime minister, and Vratislav Vajnar, former minister of interior. The police claim that due to their inactivity between 1976 and 1989 nine civilians were killed in their attempts to escape the country and another seven people were seriously wounded. In 1976 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force, which guaranteed everyone the right to leave any country, including their home country. The Czechoslovak representatives did not change the legislation in order to stop using weapons on the borders.

The prosecution was launched after the key archival documents were found showing that the accused were informed about border fire and that they were directly instructing ministers on what legislation to adopt. … They were aware of the use of firearms on the state borders of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic by members of the Border Guard against persons trying to cross the state illegally in order to leave the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Despite this, they did not, in their capacity as leaders of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, take any measures to prevent the use of firearms,” said Head of the District State Attorney for Prague 1, Mr Jan Lelek.

Supervising prosecutor Tomáš Jarolímek added that the prosecution is based on newly found archival materials. All three men are prosecuted at large. If they are found guilty, they face two to ten years in prison.

“Today’s news proves that the Platform’s activities within the Justice 2.0 project are slowly but systematically having an effect. Pressure from Polish and German judiciary systems eventually prompted the Czech authorities to act,” said Łukasz Kamiński, President of the Platform.

It is a great satisfaction for me that the strategy we applied- namely turning the killing of civilians along the border of Communist Czechoslovakia into an international issue, because the victims were of different nationalities, worked out, thanks to the binding legal cooperation between member states of the EU. And there are thousands of further victims of the Iron Curtain in other countries waiting for justice,” says Neela Winkelmann, former Managing Director of the Platform who filed the criminal complaints in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

The investigation is based on the Platform’s Justice 2.0 project. The purpose of the project is to raise international awareness about the issue of unpunished international crimes of Communism and to contribute to finding ways of achieving international justice for these crimes.

Based on the Platform’s initiative similar investigations are being held in Germany (more here: Czech-German Joint Investigation Team Established for Killing East German Refugees on the Border of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic) and in Poland with the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) – the Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (more here: Success for Platform’s “Justice 2.0” project: Polish prosecutors investigating former Czechoslovak politburo member for killings on the Iron Curtain).

Echo in the Media