BONN — West German President Richard von Weizsaecker, in a Christmas message broadcast to the nation, called Tuesday for the release from prison of former Nazi leader Rudolf Hess and of South African dissident Nelson Mandela.
He also urged that Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov, who has been exiled by Moscow to the Soviet city of Gorky, 200 miles from the capital, be granted any medical treatment that he needs.
Von Weizsaecker pointed out in his message, which is being widely publicized in West Germany, that Mandela, the head of the outlawed African National Congress, has been held in a South African prison for 24 years.
Von Weizsaecker said Mandela was jailed because he was "fighting for the right that all men are equal before God and the law. . . . It's time to give him his freedom." As for Sakharov, the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Von Weizsaecker declared that he knew and respected the physicist and called him "a friend of freedom and a hope for all of us." Von Weizsaecker said that he hoped Sakharov would soon get to see a doctor he trusted.
The West German leader, who was just named "Man of the Year" by Stern magazine, declared that Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party, should be released from Spandau Prison in West Berlin where he has been jailed since he was sentenced to life in prison at the Nuremberg war crimes trial in 1945-1946.
Hess, now 91 and the only survivor of Hitler's inner circle, has been held by the Allies since he parachuted into Scotland in 1941 on what he said at the time was a mission to arrange peace between Germany and Britain.
Hess is the only prisoner in Spandau, which is guarded by troops of the four postwar occupying powers, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France. He is said to be suffering from a heart condition and prostate gland problems.
The three Western powers have all unofficially agreed to Hess' release on humanitarian grounds, but the Soviets have been adamant about keeping him in jail until his death.
Their attitude is apparently based on their view that Hess was trying to line up a German-British alliance to fight the Russians on the Eastern Front before the United States entered the war.
In his message, Von Weizsaecker agreed that the former Nazi leader was "truly no champion of human rights or freedom" and that his life sentence "corresponded to our sense of justice."
"But Hess has been serving a sentence 44 years now," Von Weizsaecker said. "He is an ancient. He has no more earthly hopes. What purpose can such a sentence now serve?"