EAST BERLIN — Ousted East German leader Erich Honecker was arrested and taken to prison today, and a prosecutor said he will be tried for high treason in March.
Honecker, 77, was detained after his release from East Berlin's Charite hospital, where he had undergone surgery for a malignant kidney tumor, the official ADN news agency said.
Chief Prosecutor Hans-Juergen Joseph told Parliament that Honecker and former Politburo members Erich Mielke, Guenter Mittag and Joachim Herrmann will be tried by the Supreme Court on treason charges in March. All four have been expelled from the party.
Mielke was Honecker's security chief, Mittag oversaw the economy and Herrmann headed the party's propaganda department. Eleven members of Honecker's ousted Politburo are already in prison awaiting trial.
Honecker's lawyer, Wolfgang Vogel, asked the chief prosecutor to free the former leader from Rummelburg prison based on a doctor's statement that he is too ill to stay in jail, ADN said. Vogel is East Germany's most prominent lawyer.
One of Honecker's doctors, Horst Vogler, said the former leader was "very depressed" and his mental state "impaired" following two major surgical operations since August.
West German television showed an impassive Honecker being led out of the hospital by his wife, Margot, before dawn. She kissed him goodby before he was taken away in a large limousine.
The charge of high treason carries a maximum of life imprisonment. The conviction used to carry the death penalty, but that was abolished in reforms that followed Honecker's ouster Oct. 18.
Joseph, in a televised speech to Parliament, said the four former Politburo titans had systematically trampled fundamental human rights, warped the media with censorship, squandered and embezzled public funds and hushed up electoral fraud to preserve the omnipotence of their Stalinist Communist Party.
"We have a historical duty to bring to justice the main culprits for violations of the constitution, for our economic chaos, for the muzzling of the people and systematic violation of human rights," Joseph said.
He said the old party elite led parasitical life styles and showed "an indescribable arrogance because of their power."