E.German Stasi informant wins battle to conceal past

BERLIN Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:23pm EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A former East German Stasi informant who betrayed local church officials has won a court battle to prevent an exhibition on the notorious secret police from including his name and clandestine activities.

The popular exhibition put together by school pupils and a local vicar is based on material found in the Stasi archives and has toured 13 towns over three years, but was ordered to close after the man went to see it in his local area and saw his name.

A court in Zwickau ruled that his identity be removed from the exhibition, which is now in the eastern town of Reichenbach, arguing it violated his constitutional right to privacy.

The exhibition included a section on a Stasi informant called "Schubert", an alias for the man whose reports on church dissent over the Communist regime led to the arrest of at least four people before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Critics have launched a legal bid to overturn the unprecedented ruling, which came after the man chanced upon the exhibition at its Reichenbach opening, said Martin Boettger, head of the state-administered Stasi archives in Chemnitz.

"I've never seen anything like it," he told Reuters on Tuesday. "Earlier in Communist East Germany the Stasi made sure the spy's identity would remain secret. Now, even though we live in a democracy, he's allowed to keep his identity concealed."

But the informant's lawyer said that there was no justifiable reason to identify his client in the display.

"My client is tired of people snooping into his past," said Thomas Hoellrich. "He's entitled to the same rights to privacy as everyone else. If they wanted to learn about the past they should have asked him directly."

The case has drawn media considerable attention in Germany. Critics say the informant is now using the rule of law to conceal the wrongdoings of an authoritarian state.

The Stasi archives have often been used to expose the identities of informants as part of the German government's overall effort to help easterners come to terms with East Germany's Communist past.

While some people listed in the Stasi archives have rejected charges they knowingly or even unknowingly supported the agency that kept a tight lid on dissent, the informant in this case does not dispute his actions but wants to remain anonymous.

According to excerpts from the exhibition in German media, the Stasi files record that "Schubert" was hired by the body in 1979. He was specifically asked to report on church groups, where opposition to the Communist party rule was feared.

He was even baptized to foster trust from the church community he betrayed. The Stasi rewarded him for his success with a holiday to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

(Editing by Richard Meares)

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