In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2016. Berlin: Metropol Verlag, pp. 235–252.
Between 1951 and 1968 several thousand communists were convicted for treason or other criminal charges. While this is well known, no attention has been given so far to the defence counsels and the strategy of the defence in political trials. This paper explores two organisations, the ‘Central Council for Democratic Rights’ and ‘Amnesty Committee’. Both were founded by the German Communist Party with two aims: firstly, to ensure a strategy in court that argued mainly on a political – not a legal – level; and, secondly, to influence public opinion about political trials. This article shows that the strategy of the defence in court was not only unsuccessful, but created a legal environment unfavourable to the indicted communists. It also argues that critics of the political trials only gained influence on public opinion at times when the communist influence on public discourse was no longer visible.