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Court Postpones Seselj's Third Contempt Trial

Defendant says his rights have been denied and threatens not to participate in hearing.
By Velma Šarić

The third contempt of court trial of Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, which was scheduled to start on June 12, was adjourned until June 18 after the accused claimed he had been denied his procedural rights.

In this contempt trial, Seselj is accused of disobeying the trial chamber’s orders to remove certain books and documents from his website.

Seselj went on trial in The Hague in 2007, facing charges of nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, torture and forcible population transfer – in what prosecutors said was a campaign to expel the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.

He is accused of giving numerous inflammatory speeches and recruiting a force of volunteers who murdered, raped and tortured non-Serbs in both Croatia and Bosnia. In addition, he is charged with being part of a joint criminal enterprise, together with numerous high-ranking Serb political, military and paramilitary wartime leaders.

Closing arguments in the criminal trial were held in March 2012 and the verdict is pending.

Seselj represents himself in court and remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party, based in Belgrade.

He has already been sentenced for contempt of court on two occasions. In the first case, he was sentenced in July 2009 to 15 months in prison for disclosing information about the identity of three protected prosecution witnesses in one of his books. Following the second trial, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison in October 2011 for disclosing the identities of 11 witnesses.

In this third trial, Seselj entered a not-guilty plea in April 2012, and will appear as the only witness.

In court on June 12, Seselj told the bench that he had been “denied basic procedural rights which belong to him as an accused”.

He said that a request he made in April to remove Judge O-Gon Kwon from the trial chamber had not been responded to.

He also claimed that he had been denied legal counsel for the trial. Neither his legal advisor Dejan Mirovic nor his case manager Nemanja Sarovic had been able to travel to The Hague because the tribunal had not paid their travel expenses, he told the court.

Presiding Judge Stefan Trechsel said the accused made a procedural mistake by failing to put his request about Judge O-Gon Kwon in writing, which meant that it was not considered.

Judge Trechsel also said that Mirovic’s ticket to the Hague had been paid for, but that Sarovic had indicated that he would not been needed at the contempt trial “due to the very simple case at hand”.

Seselj told the court that until his “procedural rights have been met”, he would not participate in the contempt trial in any way.

Judges then adjourned the hearing and Judge Trechsel urged Seselj to use the interlude to reflect on his attitude.

Judge Trechsel said the trial would go ahead on June 18 “with or without participation of the accused”, and Seselj should “rethink his approach in this matter in the meanwhile”.

Velma Šarić is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.