A show trial is a public trial
in which the judicial
authorities have already determined the guilt
, and/or innocence, of the defendant
. The actual trial has as its only goal the presentation of both the accusation and the verdict to the public so they will serve as both an impressive example and a warning to other would-be dissidents or transgressors. Show trials tend to be retributive
rather than corrective
and they are also conducted for propagandistic
purposes. The term was first recorded in 1928.
Following the formation of the People's Republic of China
in 1949, the Communist Party of China
under Mao Zedong
began a massive socioeconomic
and political campaign called the Great Leap Forward
, which lasted circa 1958–1961. During this time, many thousands of people classified as elements of the bourgeoisie
like wealthy landlord
s were rounded up and given show trials, with some being sentenced to death.
Between 1 and 2 million landlords were executed as counterrevolutionaries in Communist China.
After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
, show trials were given to "rioters and counter-revolutionaries" involved in the protests and the subsequent military massacre.
Chinese Nobel Peace Prize
laureate Liu Xiaobo
was given a show trial in 2009.
Chinese writer and dissident Ma Jian
argued that Gu Kailai
, the wife of purged Communist Chinese leader Bo Xilai
, was given a show trial in 2012.
in countries such as Bahrain
and Saudi Arabia
is completely dependent on the wishes and wants of the governing regimes. During their show trials, Human rights
activists and opposition figures are routinely given harsh verdicts in predetermined rulings by the kangaroo court
The United Nations
human rights office and various NGO
s expressed "deep alarm" after an Egyptian Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 people to death in a single hearing on 25 March 2014. The judgment was condemned as a violation of international law. By May 2014, approximately 16,000 people (and as high as more than 40,000 by one independent count) have been imprisoned after the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état
in July 2013. Egypt
's ousted President Mohamed Morsi
was sentenced to death on 16 May 2015, along with 120 others.
After the failed coup attempt
in 2016, the government of Turkey blamed the Gülen movement
for the coup and authorities have arrested thousands of soldiers and judges. This was followed by the dismissal, detention or suspension of over 160,000 officials.
As early as 1922 Lenin
advocated staging several "model trials" ("показательный процесс", literally "demonstrative trial", "a process showing an example") in Soviet Russia
and the Soviet Ukraine
Show trials became common during Joseph Stalin
's political repressions, such as the Moscow Trials
of the Great Purge
period (1937–38). Such trials paralleled the institution of self-criticism
within Communist cadre
s and Soviet society
The Soviet 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 , a "party" invented in the late 1920s by the OGPU
, which, in particular, assigned the notable economist Alexander Chayanov
(1888-1937, arrested in 1930) to it.
Some public evidence of actual events during the Moscow Trials came to the West
through the Dewey Commission
(1937). After the collapse of the Soviet Union
(1991), more information became available. This discredited the ''New York Times
'' reporter Walter Duranty
, who claimed at the time that these trials were actually fair.
Following some dissent within ruling communist parties
throughout the Eastern Bloc
, especially after the 1948 Tito–Stalin split
several party purge
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
or even Stalin himself, as he had done in the earlier Moscow Trials.
Such high-ranking party show trials included those of Koçi Xoxe
in Albania and Traicho Kostov
in Bulgaria, who were purged and arrested.
After Kostov was executed, Bulgarian leaders sent Stalin a telegram thanking him for the help.
In Romania, Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu
, Ana Pauker
and Vasile Luca
were arrested, with Pătrășcanu being executed.
The Soviets generally directed show trial methods throughout the Eastern Bloc, 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
, 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 claiming "We knew all the time—we have it here in writing—that you met professor Szentgyörgyi not in Istanbul
, but in Constantinople
In another case, the Hungarian ÁVH
secret police also condemned another party member as a Nazi accomplice with a document that had been previously displayed in a glass cabinet at 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 in Czechoslovakia, when the judge skipped one of the scripted questions, the better-rehearsed Slánský answered the one which should have been asked.
In 1946, Draža Mihailović
and a number of other prominent figures of the Chetnik movement
during World War II were tried for high treason and war crimes committed during WWII. The trial opened in the presence of about 60 foreign journalists. Mihailović and ten others were sentenced to death by a firing squad (two in absentia); the others in the process were convicted to penalties ranging from 18 months to 20 years in prison.
In 2015, a Serbian court invalidated Mihailović's conviction. The court held that it had been a Communist
political show trial that was controlled by the government. The court concluded that Mihailović had not received a fair trial. Mihailović was, therefore, fully rehabilitated.
Stalin's NKVD emissary coordinated with Hungarian General Secretary Mátyás Rákosi
and his ÁVH
head the way the show trial of Hungarian Minister of Interior László Rajk
should go, and he was later executed.
The Rajk trial
s in Hungary led Moscow to warn Czechoslovakia's parties that enemy agents had penetrated even high into party ranks, and when a puzzled Rudolf Slánský
and Klement Gottwald
inquired what they could do, Stalin's NKVD agents arrived to help prepare subsequent trials.
First, these trials focused on people outside the Czechoslovak Communist party
. General Heliodor Píka
was arrested without a warrant in early May 1948 and accused of espionage
and high treason
, damaging the interests of the Czechoslovak Republic and the Soviet Union, and undermining the ability of the state to defend itself, Píka was not allowed to present a defence, and no witnesses were called. He was sentenced to death and hanged. During the Prague Spring
of 1968, Píka's case was reopened at the request of Milan Píka (son of Heliodor) and the elder Píka's lawyer, and a military tribunal declared Heliodor Píka innocent of all charges.
, a Czech politician
focused on social issues and women's rights, who was jailed during the German occupation for her political activity, was accused of leading a conspiracy to commit treason and espionage at the behest of the United States, Great Britain, France and Yugoslavia. Evidence of the alleged conspiracy included Horáková's presence at a meeting of political figures from the National Socialist, Social Democrat
parties, in September 1948, held to discuss their response to the new political situation in Czechoslovakia. She was also accused of maintaining contacts with Czechoslovak political figures in exile in the West. The trial of Horáková and twelve of her colleagues began on 31 May 1950 and he State's prosecutors were led by Dr. Josef Urválek
and included Ludmila Brožová-Polednová
. The trial proceedings were carefully orchestrated with confessions of guilt secured from the accused, though a recording of the event, discovered in 2005, revealed Horáková's defence of her political ideals. Horáková was sentenced to death, along with three co-defendants (Jan Buchal, Oldřich Pecl, and Záviš Kalandra
), on 8 June 1950. Many prominent figures in the West, notably Albert Einstein
, Winston Churchill
and Eleanor Roosevelt
, petitioned for her life, but the sentences were confirmed. She was executed by hanging in Prague's Pankrác Prison
on 27 June 1950.
The trials then turned to the communist party itself (Slánský trial
). In November 1952 Rudolf Slánský
and 13 other high-ranking Communist bureaucrats (Bedřich Geminder, Ludvík Frejka
, Josef Frank, Vladimír Clementis
, Bedřich Reicin
, Karel Šváb, Rudolf Margolius
, Otto Šling
, André Simone
, Artur London
, Vavro Hajdů and Evžen Löbl), 10 of whom were Jews, were arrested and charged with being Titoists
, official USSR
rhetoric having turned against Zionism
. Party rhetoric asserted that Slánský was spying as part of an international western capitalist conspiracy to undermine socialism and that punishing him would avenge the Nazi murders of Czech communists Jan Šverma
and Julius Fučík
during World War II. The trial of the 14 national leaders began on 20 November 1952, in the Senate of the State Court, with the prosecutor being Josef Urválek
. It lasted eight days. It was notable for its strong anti-Semitic
overtones. All were found guilty, with three being sentenced to life imprisonment while the rest were sentenced to death. Slánský was hanged at Pankrác Prison
on 3 December 1952. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered on an icy road outside of Prague.
As the end of the 1989 Romanian Revolution
neared, First Secretary of the Communist Party Nicolae Ceaușescu
and his wife Elena
were condemned to death and executed by firing squad
after a Stalinist-style
trial in a kangaroo court
[Nicolae și Elena Ceaușescu: „Împreună am luptat, să murim împreună!“]
Adevărul, 19 December 2009.
*The Cadaver Synod
was the posthumous trial of Pope Formosus
held in 897.
*The Dreyfus affair
was a show trial in France in 1894, where a Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus
, was accused and convicted of spying for the German Empire
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi government established a large number of Sondergericht
e that were frequently used to prosecute those hostile to the regime. The People's Court
was a kangaroo court
established in 1934 to handle political crimes after several of the defendants at the Reichstag fire
Trial were acquitted. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 12,000 Germans were killed on the orders of the "special courts" set up by the Nazi regime
[Peter Hoffmann "The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945"p.xiii]
* 1301 trial of Bernard Saisset
* 1415 trial of Jan Hus
* 1431 trial of Joan of Arc
* 1649 trial of Charles I of England
* 1792 trial of Louis XVI
during the French Revolution
* 1894 Trial of the Thirty
* 1946 Trial of Mihailović et al
and execution, Belgrade
* 1948 trial and execution of Shafiq Ades
* 1953 Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia
* 1981 trial of the Gang of Four
* 1984 televised trial and execution of Al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy
* 1989 Trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu
* 2009 Iran poll protests trial
of over 140 defendants
* The Trial of Saddam Hussein
* Eastern Bloc politics
* NKVD troika
, sentencing by extrajudicial commission
* Political trial
, a criminal trial with political implications.
* Posthumous trial
* Victor's justice
, prosecution of the defeated party's acts in a conflict by the victorious party, typically in public tribunal
, hunting down people of a certain race/trait/profession/political conviction for doing or saying something sinful
* Hodos, George H. ''Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948–1954''. New York, Westport (Conn.), and London: Praeger, 1987.
of the European Union
* Balázs Szalontai, Show trials. In: Ruud van Dijk et al. (eds.), ''Encyclopedia of the Cold War'' (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 783–786. Downloadable aacademia.edu
Category:Informal legal terminology
Category:Types of trials
Category:Abuse of the legal system
Category:Trials of political people