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23 Aug, 2007 17:53

Estonian veteran charged with genocide

An 88-year old Estonian man, Arnold Meri, has been charged with genocide for allegedly helping to deport hundreds of his countrymen to Soviet labour camps. Arnold Meri was a Colonel in the Red Army, and was decorated during World War II.

For the Estonian prosecution, it is a case of mass deportations of peaceful citizens, even genocide. Arnold Meri is accused of nothing less than crimes against humanity. For Mr Meri himself, it is a politically motivated show-trial against a man, who happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

This is a political case; it serves political interests of third parties,

Arnold Meri

Some 20,000 Estonians – many of them women and children – were deported from their home country to Siberia after WW2. In 1949, Arnold Meri was in charge of ensuring the lawfulness of deporting 251 Estonian citizens from Hiiumaa Island, off the country's Baltic Coast.
“We had to make sure that the rights of those deported were not violated, that there was no abuse, no mistreatment,”
Arnold Meri notes.
He claims he could not possibly take responsibility for their fate because he never saw the lists with the names of those to be sent to Siberia. And he claims he repeatedly requested to be allowed to see the lists in order to carry out his job, requests turned down by the security police. Apparently, he sent numerous letters to the Soviet command in Tallinn, demanding information about the deportations.

Arnold Meri suggests his stubbornness even led to his dismissal from the Komsomol, the Communist Youth Organisation. The highly decorated veteran was also stripped of all awards he received for service. But the letters to Tallinn, which could soften the charges against Mr Meri, seem to have vanished from the archives. Documents pertaining to Estonian's involvement in the persecution of Jews seem also to have gone missing.

The biggest such case took place one and a half years ago, when the same Prosecutors’ Office dropped all charges against an Estonian businessman, Harry Mannil, a case pursued for many years by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
If found guilty, Arnold Meri could face between 12 years and life imprisonment. The 88-year-old, however, does not believe he will live to see the end of this case which has been going on for some 12 years.