Government to Severely Limit Access to Stasi Files
Nov. 13, 1991
BONN, Germany (AP) _ Six million documents gather dust in the gloomy buildings where East Germany's Stasi secret police once worked. They instill fear among the innocent as well as the guilty.
They are the Stasi files, documents containing information on the private lives of East German citizens, the identities of Stasi informers, and perhaps the names of current politicians who aided the Stasi.
On Thursday, Parliament is expected to pass a bill that will effectively open the explosive files only to a limited number of victims of the police's scrutiny, and, in special cases, to intelligence agencies and prosecutors.
Under the legislation, which was drafted by all parties, journalists would be banned from publishing most information from the Stasi files. They could receive up to three years in jail if they break the law.
The bill has provoked an angry debate. Journalists say it jeopardizes freedom of the press and is being used to protect politicians from the east from embarrassing disclosures.
It is not acceptable that facts regarding public figures only be publicized if ''that does not interfere with the predominant interests of these people,'' said Dirk M. Barton, head of the Association of German Newspaper Publishers.
Civil rights activists, meanwhile, charge the legislation provides too few safeguards against government intrusion into east Germans' private lives.
''With the planned law, the federal government has commandeered the old (East German) rulers' knowledge,'' said Konrad Taut, head of a Leipzig citizens' committee that helped rescue Stasi files from being burned by Stasi agents in 1989.
''The new law will allow the secret services to acquire at least a part of the Stasi information,'' Taut told the news magazine Der Spiegel.
But government officials say one of the best arguments for carefully limited access to the Stasi documents is that the files may contain totally false information.
''Countless people in the DDR (East Germany) were spied on, hounded and humiliated,'' said federal Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel.
''Two hundred kilometers (125 miles) of documents are the result - unspeakable muck and filth which one should let disappear if there were no culprits and above all no victims,'' Kinkel said on German television.
Even Chancellor Helmut Kohl's rivals staunchly defend the bill.
Willfried Penner, a security expert with the opposition Social Democrats, said he does not believe the law impinges on press freedoms, and is confident that access by German intelligence to the documents would be tightly restricted.
Under the law, each request to examine Stasi documents will be considered by a government-appointed committee - headed by Lutheran minister Joachim Gauck - that has acted as the documents' guardian since German unification a year ago.
Gauck told Der Spiegel that 70,000 east German citizens have asked to examine their files and that he expects 50,000 applications a month if the bill passes.
Ambiguous conditions in the law could permit the panel to block publication of information about important figures.
The files are kept under guard at former Stasi offices in eastern Germany. But a number of the documents are already on the loose, apparently among files that disappeared during the chaos of East Germany's 1989 revolution.
Leaked Stasi information has already led to the political downfall of a number of East Germans, including Lothar de Maiziere, who during a brief term as prime minister steered his county to unity with West Germany.
Allegations that de Maiziere was a Stasi informer were never proven, but they were a factor in his decision earlier this year to resign as a deputy leader of Kohl's Christian Democrats.