|Nicolae Ceau?escu (left), President of the Socialist Republic of Romania from 1974 (and leader of the country since 1965), and his wife Elena Ceau?escu (right), were executed following trial on 25 December 1989.|
The trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceau?escu was a short trial held on 25 December 1989 by an Exceptional Military Tribunal, a drumhead court-martial created at the request of a newly formed group called the National Salvation Front. It resulted in guilty verdicts and death sentences for former Romanian President and Romanian Communist Party General Secretary, Nicolae Ceau?escu, and his wife, Elena Ceau?escu.
The main charge was genocide--namely, murdering "over 60,000 people" during the revolution in Timi?oara. Other sources put the death toll between 689 and 1,200. Nevertheless, the charges did not affect the trial. General Victor St?nculescu had brought with him a specially selected team of paratroopers from a crack regiment, handpicked earlier in the morning to act as a firing squad. Before the legal proceedings began, St?nculescu had already selected the spot where the execution would take place--along one side of the wall in the barracks' square.
Nicolae Ceau?escu refused to recognize the tribunal, arguing its lack of constitutional basis and claiming that the revolutionary authorities were part of a Soviet plot.
On 22 December, during the Romanian Revolution, Nicolae and Elena Ceau?escu left the Central Committee building in Bucharest by helicopter toward Snagov, from which they left soon after towards Pite?ti. The helicopter pilot claimed to be in danger of anti-aircraft fire, so he landed on the Bucharest-Târgovi?te road, near G?e?ti. They stopped a car driven by Dr. Nicolae Dec?, who took them to V?c?re?ti, after which he informed the local authorities that the Ceau?escus were going toward Târgovi?te. The Ceau?escus took another car and told its driver, Nicolae Petri?or, to drive them to Târgovi?te. During the trip, the Ceau?escus heard news of the revolution on the car radio (by then the revolutionaries had taken control of the state media), causing Ceau?escu to angrily denounce the revolution as a coup d'état. Petri?or took the couple to an agricultural center near Târgovi?te, where they were locked in an office and were later arrested by soldiers from a local army garrison.
As the new authorities heard the news of their apprehension from General Andrei Kemenici, the commander of the army unit, they began to discuss what to do with the Ceau?escus.Victor St?nculescu, who was Ceau?escu's last defence minister before going over to the revolution, wanted a quick execution, as did Gelu Voican Voiculescu. Ion Iliescu, Romania's provisional president, supported holding a trial first.
During the evening of 24 December, St?nculescu sent the secret code "recourse to the method" to Kemenici, referring to the execution of the Ceau?escus. A ten-member tribunal was formed to try the case. The members of the panel were all military judges.
The morning of the trial, prominent lawyer Nicu Teodorescu was having Christmas breakfast with his family when he was telephoned by an aide to Iliescu, and asked by the National Salvation Front to be the Ceau?escus' defense counsel. He replied that it would be "an interesting challenge". Teodorescu met the couple for the first time in the Târgovi?te "court room", when he was given ten minutes to consult with his clients. With so little time to prepare any defense, he tried to explain to them that their best hope of avoiding the death sentence was to plead insanity. The Ceau?escus brushed away the idea; according to Teodorescu, "When [he] suggested it, Elena in particular said it was an outrageous set-up. They felt deeply insulted. ... They rejected [his] help after that."
The trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceau?escu was very brief, lasting approximately one hour. Ceau?escu defended himself by arguing that the tribunal was against the 1965 Constitution of Romania and that only the Great National Assembly had the power to depose him. He argued that it was a coup d'état organized by the Soviets.
Nicolae and Elena Ceau?escu were convicted on all charges and condemned to death in a show trial. At one point, their forcibly-assigned lawyers abandoned their clients' defense and joined with the prosecutor, accusing them of capital crimes instead of defending them. No offer of proof was made for the Ceau?escus' alleged crimes. They were tried based on references, solely by offense-name or hearsay, to criminal acts they had committed in the opinion of prosecutors, or as alleged in press reports.[clarification needed] Various irregularities presented themselves, or became apparent post-trial:
Before the execution, Nicolae Ceau?escu declared, "We could have been shot without having this masquerade!"
Just after the trial, the Ceau?escus were executed at 4:00 p.m. local time at a military base outside Bucharest on 25 December 1989. The execution was carried out by a firing squad consisting of paratroop regiment soldiers: Captain Ionel Boeru, Sergeant-Major Georghin Octavian and Dorin-Marian Cirlan, while reportedly hundreds of others also volunteered. The Ceau?escus' hands were tied by four soldiers before the execution.Popular history author Simon Sebag Montefiore has claimed that, before the sentences were carried out, Elena Ceau?escu screamed, "You sons of bitches!" while being led outside and lined up against the wall; at the same time Nicolae Ceau?escu sang "The Internationale".
The firing squad began shooting as soon as the two were in position against a wall. The execution happened too quickly for the television crew assigned to the trial and death sentence to videotape it in full; only the last round of shots was filmed. In 2014, the by then retired Captain Boeru told a reporter for The Guardian newspaper that he believes that the shots he fired from his rifle were solely responsible for the deaths of both of the Ceau?escus, because, of the three soldiers in the firing squad, he was the only one who remembered to switch his Kalashnikov rifle to fire fully automatic, and at least one member of the group hesitated to shoot for several seconds. In 1990, a member of the National Salvation Front reported that 120 bullets were found in the couple's bodies.
After the execution, the bodies were covered with canvas. The Ceau?escus' corpses were flown to Bucharest and buried five days later in Ghencea Cemetery on 30 December 1989.
The bodies were exhumed for identification and reburied in 2010. Groups of elderly Ceau?escus' supporters visit to place flowers on the grave, with large numbers of pensioners gathering on 26 January, Ceau?escus's birthday.
The hasty trial and the images of the dead Ceau?escus were videotaped and the footage promptly released in numerous Western countries two days after the execution. Later that day, it was also shown on Romanian television.
Valentin Ceau?escu, elder son of the Ceau?escus, argued in 2009 that the revolutionary forces should have killed his parents when they had arrested them on 22 December since they did not need any trial. After making vague comments about the incident, Ion Iliescu stated that it was "quite shameful, but necessary". In a similar vein, St?nculescu told the BBC in 2009 that the trial was "not just, but it was necessary" because the alternative would have been seeing Nicolae lynched on the streets of Bucharest.
Several countries criticized the new rulers of Romania after the execution due to lack of public trial. The United States was the most prominent critic of the trial, stating: "We regret the trial did not take place in an open and public fashion."
In December 2018, Iliescu, former Deputy Prime Minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu, former Romanian Air Force chief Iosif Rus, and former National Salvation Front council member Emil Dumitrescu were indicted by Romanian military prosecutors for crimes against humanity for the deaths that occurred during the Romanian Revolution, most of which took place after Ceau?escu was overthrown. The indictment also made reference to the conviction and execution of the Ceau?escus "after a mockery of a trial". The investigation that led to the indictments had previously been closed in 2009, but was re-opened in 2016 as the result of a trial at the European Court of Human Rights.
The Ceau?escus were the last people to be executed in Romania before the abolition of capital punishment on 7 January 1990.