Today in History
21.5.1975: Baader-Meinhof trial begins
The hall which was built next to the prison had cost $7.6 million to construct. The air space above the prison was made into a no-fly zone on this day and mounted police patrolled the streets in front of the building. Public opinion was largely in favor of enacting court proceedings against the suspects, who were considered to be the four most dangerous people in the country: The leaders of the Red Army Faction (RAF) Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Jan-Carl Raspe.

A radio journalist listed the charges made against the accused: "Founding the criminal RAF association, six bombings, the firing of shots at the police and that some of the accused fired or at any rate attempted to fire while they were being arrested. The bank robberies, thefts and burglaries were excluded, as was the attempted murder of a policeman."

Heinrich Böll called the left wing terrorists’ acts a battle of "six against 60 million." In total, 30 people were victims of the group’s attacks. The hard core of the group was arrested in 1972, after this, the terrorists who were still free attempted to force the release of their comrades by taking hostages.

The state changed numerous laws especially for this lawsuit, which began in May 1975. In this way, it was possible to continue the court hearing even in the absence of the lawyers. In some cases, the lawyers were bugged during their discussion with their clients, which outraged Otto Schily, who was not Interior Minister at that time, but Gudrun Ensslin’s defence lawyer.

"A defending counsel’s face-to-face discussion with their client is a fundamental right upon which a defence in accordance with the rule of law is based," Schily said. "And if that is subject to bias, then an essential element of the defence in accordance with the rule of law falls by the wayside."

The objective of the federal public prosecutor’s office was to conduct proceedings which were as free as possible from disruption and which produced a definitive outcome. The objective of the accused was to publicly ridicule the state which they despised. Charges of bias rained down upon the bench, the presiding judge was accused of being a fascist. The defence also wanted to ensure that it was viewed as being a political trial.

Schily explained: "The members of the Red Army Faction are to be portrayed as common criminals, as people with the lowest level of morality, without any political pretensions. The government aims to deny the political and military character of the confrontation between the state apparatus and the Red Army Faction."

When judgement was finally passed on April 28, 1977 -- after 192 days of the court hearing -- only three people were in the dock. Ulrike Meinhof, the former journalist, had committed suicide in her cell in May 1976. Raspe, Baader and Ensslin were sentenced to life imprisonment.

But the greatest confrontation between the state and the RAF was still to come. The group kidnapped and later murdered Hanns-Martin Schleyer, president of the employers’ association, then Palestinian terrorists took control of a German tourist plane. It was possible to free all of the hostages on board when the plane was stormed by a special unit of the Bundesgrenzschutz (German Federal Border Control Guard) in the Somalian city of Mogadishu following an erratic detour through the Middle East and Africa.

In Bonn, the government spokesman Klaus Bölling was visibly relieved. The state had remained resolute, the terrorists in Stammheim would not be released as the hijackers had requested.

"We acted in this way as we were under an obligation to all the citizens," Bölling said. "We were and are sure that by taking this decision, we have also done the right thing to protect the life of the individual."

The very same night, Baader, Ensslin and Rapse all committed suicide in Stammheim. The main confrontations between the state and the terrorists -- called the German autumn -- had come to an end, even if acts of violence were repeatedly committed by what was left of the Red Army Faction until April 1998. Then the group gave up their underground armed struggle.
Zitat des Tages
Zitat des Tages
One of the most sensational trials in post-war German history began on 21 May 1975. The leaders of which German terrorist organization were taken to court?
  The Red Hand Brigades
  The Red Brigades
  The Red Army Faction