Briefly Noted

By IWPR staff in The Hague (TU No 424, 7-Oct-05)

Briefly Noted

By IWPR staff in The Hague (TU No 424, 7-Oct-05)

Friday, 7 October, 2005

An arrest warrant was issued for Josip Jovic – a former editor of the daily newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija – after he failed to appear in The Hague last week to enter a plea on charges of contempt of the tribunal.


According to the indictment against him, in November 2000 Jovic’s newspaper published excerpts from a statement provided by the protected witness during the trial of senior Croatian general Tihomir Blaskic in April 1997.


When the tribunal demanded in December 2000 that no more such testimony should be published, Jovic’s paper apparently ran an editorial describing the order as “arrogant” alongside fresh excerpts from the witness’s appearances in court.


The case has caused a stir in Croatia, where the name of the witness in question – described in one prosecution document as “a high-ranking politician who holds important state responsibilities” – has long been an open secret. [See Contempt Charges Baffle Croatian Media TU No 423, 30-Sep-05]


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In a separate development, lawyers for two other Croatian journalists facing contempt charges in relation to the same protected witness have objected to an attempt by tribunal prosecutors to have their cases joined.


The arguments offered in the lawyers’ submissions on the matter give an early hint as to what kind of defence strategies they may later pursue in court.


Prosecutors called last month for the trial of former Slobodna Dalmacija editor Josip Jovic to be joined with proceedings against Marijan Krizic, editor of the Zagreb weekly Hrvatsko Slovo, along with Stjepan Seselj, described by prosecutors as the paper’s publisher, and Domagoj Margetic, former editor of Novo Hrvatsko Slovo.


Krizic, Seselj and Margetic have all pleaded not guilty to contempt charges, amid allegations that they too were involved in publishing excerpts from testimony provided by the witness in the war crimes trial of Croatian general Tihomir Blaskic.


In their recent submissions, lawyers for Krizic and Seselj argue that joining the various contempt cases would make no sense, since the alleged offences are spread over a period of four years and there is no proof of “a common scheme or strategy” between the four defendants.


Seselj’s lawyer seeks to back up this approach by claiming that his client was in fact “in personal and business conflict” with Margetic.


He also takes the opportunity to insist that Seselj ought not to be on trial at all. By the time Hrvatsko Slovo published information about the witness in 2004, he says, similar revelations had already been made elsewhere in the Croatian media and “the secret was already out”.


Arguing that the witness in question had in fact publicly confirmed his own role in the Blaskic case, he wonders whether it wouldn’t be more logical for prosecutors to indict him instead.


Failing that, he says, another port of call might be the person or persons responsible for leaking the supposedly secret testimony.


Seselj’s lawyer also accuses prosecutors of inconsistency, saying they have at various times described his client as a journalist, an editor, an owner and finally – in the latest indictment against him – as a publisher. The truth, he says, is that Seselj is “a writer”.


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Former Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik complained in a pre-trial conference this week that prosecutors are seeking to scare off witnesses who have previously agreed to testify in his defence by warning them that they may be potential war crimes suspects themselves.


The accused’s protests came after prosecutor Mark Harmon requested that he and his aides should be allowed to question defence witnesses in advance of their appearing at the tribunal. Defence counsel Nicholas Stewart, for his part, agreed quite readily to this standard procedure.


But Krajisnik, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the expulsion of Muslims and Croats from large parts of Bosnia in 1991 and 1992, expressed concern that defence witnesses were likely to “change their story” after discussions with war crimes investigators.


There has been tension recently between Krajisnik and his defence team, after a request by the accused to be allowed to represent himself in court was turned down by judges.


Harmon denied that prosecution investigators might “bludgeon” defence witnesses with the idea that they were potential suspects. And he insisted that he would not accept any restriction on his team’s “duty and obligation” to meet with such witnesses prior to their testimony.


The defence will begin presenting their case next week.


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