Show trial
The term show trial is a pejorative description of a type of highly public trial
Public trial
Public trial or open trial is a trial open to public, as opposed to the secret trial. The term should not be confused with show trial.-United States:...

 in which there is a strong connotation that the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt
Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that...

 of the defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

. The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning. Show trials tend to be retributive
Retributive justice
Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society....

 rather than correctional
In criminal justice, particularly in North America, correction, corrections, and correctional, are umbrella terms describing a variety of functions typically carried out by government agencies and involving the punishment, treatment, and supervision of persons who have been convicted of crimes....

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics; justice is the act of being just and/or fair.-Concept of justice:...

. The term was first recorded in the 1930s.

Such trials can exhibit scant regard for the principles of jurisprudence
Jurisprudence is the theory and philosophy of law. Scholars of jurisprudence, or legal theorists , hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, legal systems and of legal institutions...

 and even for the letter of the law. Defendants have little real opportunity to justify themselves: they have often signed statements under duress and/or suffered torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 prior to appearing in the

Salem witch trials

In the late 17th century, various people in Salem, Massachusetts were accused of practicing witchcraft and consorting with the Devil in the Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693...

. Nineteen people were executed, one was killed, and five died in prison.

Dreyfus Affair

The Dreyfus affair
Dreyfus Affair
The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

 was a show trial in France in 1894, where a Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer of Jewish background whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense political dramas in modern French and European history...

, was accused of spying for Germany.

Sacco and Vanzetti

The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti
Sacco and Vanzetti
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery in South Braintree, Massachusetts, United States...

 in 1927 was one in which two anarchist Italian immigrants were accused of an armed robbery in Massachusetts. Both were executed, despite international appeals.

Chicago Seven

The Chicago Seven
Chicago Seven
The Chicago Seven were seven defendants—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests that took place in Chicago, Illinois on the occasion of the 1968...

 show trial was one in which anti-war protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention
1968 Democratic National Convention
The 1968 Democratic National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois, from August 26 to August 29, 1968. Because Democratic President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek a second term, the purpose of the convention was to...

 were tried for crimes against the state.

Moscow Trials

Show trials were a significant part of Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's regime. The Moscow Trials
Moscow Trials
The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials conducted in the Soviet Union and orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Great Purge of the 1930s. The victims included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the leadership of the Soviet secret police...

 of the Great Purge
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

 period in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 are characteristic.

The authorities staged the actual trials meticulously. If defendants refused to "cooperate", i.e., to admit guilt for their alleged and mostly fabricated crimes, they did not go on public trial, but suffered execution nonetheless. This happened, for example during the prosecution of the so-called "Labour Peasant Party" (Трудовая Крестьянская Партия), a party invented by NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

, which, in particular, assigned the notable economist Alexander Chayanov
Alexander Chayanov
Alexander V. Chayanov was a Soviet agrarian economist, and scholar of rural sociology and advocate of agrarianism and cooperatives....

 to it.

Some solid public evidence of what really happened during the Moscow Trials came to the West through the Dewey Commission
Dewey Commission
The Dewey Commission was initiated in March 1937 by the "American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky." It was named after its Chairman, John Dewey...

. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, more information became available. This discredited Walter Duranty
Walter Duranty
Walter Duranty was a Liverpool-born British journalist who served as the Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times from 1922 through 1936. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for a set of stories written in 1931 on the Soviet Union...

, who claimed that these trials were actually fair.

Eastern Bloc party show trials

Following some dissent within ruling communist parties throughout the Eastern Bloc
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

, especially after the 1948 Tito-Stalin split
Tito-Stalin Split
The Tito–Stalin Split was a conflict between the leaders of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which resulted in Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau in 1948...

, several party purge
In history, religion, and political science, a purge is the removal of people who are considered undesirable by those in power from a government, from another organization, or from society as a whole. Purges can be peaceful or violent; many will end with the imprisonment or exile of those purged,...

s occurred, with several hundred thousand members purged in several countries. In addition to rank-and-file member purges, prominent communists were purged, with some subjected to public show trials. These were more likely to be instigated, and sometimes orchestrated, by the Kremlin
A kremlin , same root as in kremen is a major fortified central complex found in historic Russian cities. This word is often used to refer to the best-known one, the Moscow Kremlin, or metonymically to the government that is based there...

 or even Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 himself, as he had done in the earlier Moscow Trials.

Such high ranking party show trials included those of Koçi Xoxe
Koçi Xoxe
Koçi Xoxe was the Defence and Interior Minister of Albania for some time under Enver Hoxha. According to different sources, he was an ethnic Macedonian or ethnic Bulgarian from Aegean Macedonia and was initially a tinsmith....

 in Albania and Traicho Kostov
Traicho Kostov
Traicho Kostov Djunev was a Bulgarian politician, former President of the Council of Ministers and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party....

 in Bulgaria, who were purged and arrested. After Kostov was executed, Bulgarian leaders sent Stalin a telegram thanking him for the help. In Romania, Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu
Lucretiu Patrascanu
Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu was a Romanian communist politician and leading member of the Communist Party of Romania , also noted for his activities as a lawyer, sociologist and economist. For a while, he was a professor at Bucharest University...

, Ana Pauker
Ana Pauker
Ana Pauker was a Romanian communist leader and served as the country's foreign minister in the late 1940s and early 1950s...

 and Vasile Luca
Vasile Luca
Vasile Luca was an Austro-Hungarian-born Romanian and Soviet communist politician, a leading member of the Romanian Communist Party from 1945 and until his imprisonment in the 1950s...

 were arrested, with Pătrăşcanu being executed. Stalin's NKVD emissary coordinated with Hungarian General Secretary Mátyás Rákosi
Mátyás Rákosi
Mátyás Rákosi was a Hungarian communist politician. He was born as Mátyás Rosenfeld, in present-day Serbia...

 and his ÁVH head the way the show trial of Hungarian Foreign Minister László Rajk
László Rajk
László Rajk was a Hungarian Communist; politician, former Minister of Interior and former Minister of Foreign Affairs...

 should go, and he was later executed. The Rajk trials led Moscow to warn Czechoslovakia's parties that enemy agents had penetrated high into party ranks, and when a puzzled Rudolf Slánský
Rudolf Slánský
Rudolf Slánský was a Czech Communist politician. Holding the post of the party's General Secretary after World War II, he was one of the leading creators and organizers of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia...

 and Klement Gottwald
Klement Gottwald
Klement Gottwald was a Czechoslovakian Communist politician, longtime leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia , prime minister and president of Czechoslovakia.-Early life:...

 inquired what they could do, Stalin's NKVD agents arrived to help prepare subsequent trials. The Czechoslovakian party subsequently arrested Slánský himself, Vladimír Clementis
Vladimír Clementis
Vladimír "Vlado" Clementis was a Slovak minister, politician, lawyer, publicist, literary critic, author and a prominent member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. He married Lída Pátková, a daughter of a branch director of Czech Hypothec Bank in Bratislava, in March 1933. He became a Communist...

, Ladislav Novomeský and Gustáv Husák
Gustáv Husák
Gustáv Husák was a Slovak politician, president of Czechoslovakia and a long-term Communist leader of Czechoslovakia and of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia...

 (Clementis was later executed). Slánský and eleven others were convicted together of being "Trotskyist-zionist-titoist-bourgeois-nationalist traitors" in one series of show trials, after which they were executed and their ashes were mixed with material being used to fill roads on the outskirts of Prague. By the time of the Slánský trials, the Kremlin had been arguing that Israel, like Yugoslavia, had bitten the Soviet hand that had fed it, and thus the trials took an overtly anti-Semitic tone, with eleven of the fourteen defendants tried with Slánský being Jewish.

The Soviets generally directed show trial methods throughout the Eastern Bloc
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

, including a procedure in which confessions and evidence from leading witnesses could be extracted by any means, including threatening to torture the witnesses’ wives and children. The higher ranking the party member, generally the more harsh the torture that was inflicted upon him. For the show trial of Hungarian Interior Minister János Kádár
János Kádár
János Kádár was a Hungarian communist leader and the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, presiding over the country from 1956 until his forced retirement in 1988. His thirty-two year term as General Secretary makes Kádár the longest ruler of the People's Republic of Hungary...

, who one year earlier had attempted to force a confession of Rajk in his show trial, regarding "Vladimir" the questioner of Kádár:

The evidence was often not just non-existent but absurd, with Hungarian George Paloczi-Horváth’s party interrogators delightedly exclaiming "We knew all the time—we have it here in writing—that you met professor Szentgyörgyi not in Istanbul
Istanbul , historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople , is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe after London and...

, but in Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

." In another case, the Hungarian ÁVH secret police also condemned another party member as a Nazi accomplice with a document that had actually been previously displayed in glass cabinet of the Institute of the Working Class Movement as an example of a Gestapo forgery. The trials themselves were "shows", with each participant having to learn a script and conduct repeated rehearsals before the performance. In the Slánský trial, when the judge skipped one of the scripted questions, the better-rehearsed Slánský answered the one which should have been asked.


Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceaușescu was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's second and last Communist leader...

 and Elena Ceaușescu
Elena Ceausescu
Elena Ceaușescu was the wife of Romania's Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Deputy Prime Minister of Romania.-Background:She was born Elena Petrescu into a peasant family in Petrești commune, Dâmboviţa County, in the informal region of Wallachia. Her family was supported by her father's job...

 were condemned to death in a Stalinist-style trial, wherein even their forcefully assigned lawyers began accusing them of having committed capital crimes, instead of defending them. There were absolutely no proofs offered for their alleged crimes, just mentions of the name of the crimes they would have had committed in the opinion of the prosecutors and of press reports about their alleged crimes. E.g., the accusation of genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 remains unproven to this day. They were also accused of saving USD 1 billion in foreign accounts, and even today there is no proof of such secret accounts. The judges' verdict offered the possibility of making appeal to a higher court, but the condemned were killed five minutes after the court reached the verdict. One of their lawyers has motivated before the execution that since the condemned do not recognize the court, there is no way left for making appeal to the verdict, and therefore the verdict should become final. Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

n law prohibited carrying out death penalties in less than ten days since the verdict remained final and irrevocable. After their execution, death penalty was abolished in Romania.

Nicolae Ceaușescu
Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceaușescu was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's second and last Communist leader...

 said that he does not recognize the court, and lawfully seen he seems to have been correct about that. The person signing the decree for organizing the court (Ion Iliescu
Ion Iliescu
Ion Iliescu served as President of Romania from 1990 until 1996, and from 2000 until 2004. From 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 until his retirement in 2008, Iliescu was a Senator for the Social Democratic Party , whose honorary president he remains....

) lacked any credentials for doing it, except that of being one of the leaders of the coup. The decree was handwritten in a toilet of the Romanian Department of Defense. Later, the leaders of the coup said the decision to kill the Ceaușescus was necessary in order to stop the terrorists from attacking the new authorities, but it seems that there were no terrorists active.

Before the execution Nicolae said: "We could have been shot without having this masquerade!"

See also

  • 1415 trial of Jan Hus
    Jan Hus
    Jan Hus , often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague...

    , Konstanz
  • 1431 trial of Joan of Arc
    Joan of Arc
    Saint Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" , is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. A peasant girl born in eastern France who claimed divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, which paved the way for the...

    , Rouen
  • 1649 trial of Charles I of England or High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I
    High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I
    The High Court of Justice is the name given to the court established by the Rump Parliament to try King Charles I of England. This was an ad hoc tribunal created specifically for the purpose of trying the king, although the same name was used again for subsequent courts.Neither the involvement of...

  • 1792 Trial of Louis XVI
    Trial of Louis XVI
    The trial of Louis XVI was a key event of the French Revolution. It involved the trial of the former French king Louis XVI before the National Convention and led to his execution.- 10–11 December 1792 :The trial began on Camel 10 December...

     of the French Revolution
  • 1894 Trial of the Thirty
    Trial of the thirty
    The Trial of the Thirty was a trial in 1894 in Paris, France, aimed at legitimizing the lois scélérates passed in 1893-1894 against the anarchist movement and restricting press freedom by proving the existence of an effective association between anarchists.Lasting from 6 August-31 October in 1894,...

    , Paris
  • 1948 trial and execution of Shafiq Ades
    Shafiq Ades
    Shafiq Ades was a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish businessman of Syrian origins. After a short show trial in 1948, he was executed by hanging on charges of selling weapons to Israel and supporting the Iraqi Communist Party.- Background :Ades was born to a wealthy family based in Aleppo, Syria...

    , Iraq
  • 1949 show trial and execution of László Rajk
    László Rajk
    László Rajk was a Hungarian Communist; politician, former Minister of Interior and former Minister of Foreign Affairs...

    , under Hungary's communist regime
  • 1953 Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia
    Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia
    The Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia was a public trial of four Roman Catholic priests – members of the Kraków diocesan Curia – including three lay persons, accused by the Communist authorities in the People's Republic of Poland of subversion and spying for the United States...

    , Poland
  • 1981 trial of the Gang of Four
    Gang of Four
    The Gang of Four was the name given to a political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials. They came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution and were subsequently charged with a series of treasonous crimes...

     in China
  • 2009 Iran poll protests trial
    2009 Iran poll protests trial
    2009 Iran poll protests trial refers to a series of trials conducted after 2009 Iranian presidential election. Over 140 defendants, including prominent politicians, academics and writers, were put on trial for participating in the 2009 Iranian election protests...

     of over 140 defendants
  • NKVD troika
    NKVD troika
    NKVD troika or Troika, in Soviet Union history, were commissions of three persons who convicted people without trial. These commissions were employed as an instrument of extrajudicial punishment introduced to circumvent the legal system with a means for quick execution or imprisonment...

    , sentencing by extrajudicial commission
  • Witch-hunt
    A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials...

    , hunting down people of a certain race/trait/profession/political conviction for being/doing something sinful.
  • Kangaroo court
    Kangaroo court
    A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".The outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or...

    : a sham legal proceeding
  • Eastern Bloc politics
    Eastern Bloc politics
    Eastern Bloc politics followed the Red Army's occupation of much of eastern Europe at the end of World War II and the Soviet Union's installation of Soviet-controlled communist governments in the Eastern Bloc through a process of bloc politics and repression...

  • 2003 Trial of Saddam Hussein
    Trial of Saddam Hussein
    thumb|300 px| Saddam Hussein sits before an Iraqi judge at a courthouse in Baghdad, 1 July 2004.The Trial of Saddam Hussein was the trial of the deposed President of Iraq Saddam Hussein by the Iraqi Interim Government for crimes against humanity during his time in office.The Coalition Provisional...

  • 2010 Mikhail Khodorkovsky
    Mikhail Khodorkovsky
    Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky is a Russian prisoner, considered by some - such as Amnesty International - to have been imprisoned for political reasons, jailed until 2016 and a former Russian oligarch and businessman...

    trial of a former Russian oligarch
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