Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term show trial serves most commonly to label a type of public trial in which the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the accused: the actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning. It tends to be retributive rather than correctional justice.
Show trials, which often take place under authoritarian régimes, often have the purpose of eliminating or suppressing the political opponents of an organization, such as a current government or of the church. Such trials can exhibit scant regard for the niceties of jurisprudence and even for the letter of the law. Defendants have little real opportunity to justify themselves: they have often signed statements under duress and/or suffered torture prior to appearing in the court-room.
The Moscow Trials of the Great Purge period in the Soviet Union give pre-eminent examples of the show trial. The authorities not only pre-determined the guilt of the defendants, but also orchestrated the whole trial processes. Massive campaigns in newspapers and at numerous meetings shaped the opinion of the public towards the cases.
The 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 "Labour Peasant Party" (Трудовая Крестьянская Партия), a party invented by NKVD, which, in particular, assigned the notable economist Alexander Chayanov to it.
These show trials set an example for all communist states.
The first solid public evidence of what really happened during the Moscow Trials came to the West through the Dewey Commission. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, more information became available.
Possible show trials
The following are a list of trails that have been argued to be show trails:
- Inquisition: an office of the Roman Catholic Church charged with suppressing heresy.
- Nuremberg trials: trials of Nazis involved in World War II.
- Russell Tribunal: Vietnam war claims of American war crimes.
- Trial of the Sixteen or First Moscow Trial
- Trial of Charles I of England
- kangaroo court: a sham legal proceeding.
- secret trial: a trial not open to the public.
- NKVD troika
- witch hunt
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