WARSAW, Poland — Poland's last communist leader denied Thursday that he led an organized criminal group intent on depriving people of freedom when he imposed martial law in a 1981 crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity movement.
Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, 85, dismissed as unfounded the charges brought against him by the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes.
"I often repeat the words: I regret, I deplore, I apologize, especially in relation to death, suffering and pain" caused during the crackdown, Jaruzelski told the four-judge panel hearing the case. "But that does not mean I plead guilty to charges as presented in the indictment."
It was the first time Jaruzelski had the opportunity to speak at his trial, which opened Sept. 12.
Jaruzelski and six other former officials are charged with violating article 258 of the penal code, which prohibits membership in an organized criminal group, as well as keeping people captive.
In addition, they are charged with violating the communist-era constitution by approving the decree that introduced martial law.
Jaruzelski argued that the decision to impose martial law on Dec. 13, 1981, and arrest hundreds of Solidarity leaders and activists was dictated by what he called a "higher compulsion."
"Martial law was an evil, but it saved Poland from a multidimensional catastrophe," Jaruzelski said — a reference to his long-standing insistence that the crackdown saved the country from a Soviet military intervention.
"I consider the charges that I am facing as unfounded and the whole indictment as being marked by a lack of objectivity," the retired general, dressed in a gray suit and wearing his trademark dark glasses, told the court.
Jaruzelski also challenged the official figure of some 100 martial law-related deaths.
"I trust that an independent court will analyze the matter in a just and objective way," he said.
If convicted, Jaruzelski could face up to 10 years in prison. It is unclear when the court will deliver a verdict.
Martial law was a serious setback for Solidarity but did not prevent the collapse of communist rule in 1989-1990.
Jaruzelski's government held round-table talks with Solidarity in 1989 that led to the movement's re-legalization and semi-free elections.
Jaruzelski was appointed as post-communist Poland's first president but was soon succeeded by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who won democratic elections in 1990.
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