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Court Rules That War Criminals Serving Jail Terms Are Entitled to Leave from Prison

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The constitutional court in Karlsruhe has ruled that Nazi war criminals serving prison sentences are entitled to leave from prison, as are other prisoners, regardless of the gravity of their crimes.

The ruling, by the highest court in West Gemany, reversed a decision by a court in Hessen in the case of two former Nazi officials who sued the State after their applications for leave were denied in 1979 because of the serious nature of their crimes.

The prisoners, aged 78 and 79, are serving sentences of 23 and 16 years, respectively. They had been found guilty of the mass killing of Jews during World War II. But the constitutional court maintained that the prison authorities should be guided not only by the nature of the crimes but other relevant considerations. According to the court, the latter include the age and state of health of the prisoners and the length of time already served.

The court acknowledged that complicity in crimes of the Nazi era demanded severe penalties but it ruled that this does not justify a denial of rights granted all prisoners under the law.

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