Filipovic Arrest Ordeal

IWPR journalist Miroslav Filipovic, recently released from prison after an appeal against his conviction for espionage, describes his Kafkaesque arrest.

Filipovic Arrest Ordeal

IWPR journalist Miroslav Filipovic, recently released from prison after an appeal against his conviction for espionage, describes his Kafkaesque arrest.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

"I didn't do anything wrong, but in this country one can lose his head for doing less." These words of our great writer Ivo Andric are the best way to summarise in one sentence the utter absurdity of the situation in which I found and still find myself.


While I was writing the stories (on human rights abuses in Serbia and Kosovo) that led to my imprisonment, I was sure that I would be of some interest to the police. Others writing for IWPR had been called in for 'informative' talks and were amicably advised to 'cool it down a bit'.


My problems started on May 8 this year. My wife Slavica and I had just returned from the village where my father Ljubomir, a retired army officer, was buried just a week earlier.


In the hallway of my apartment block, two young men approached me and said that they were from state security. They flashed their IDs and asked me to accompany them to my flat.


On entering my flat, they waited until they were joined by another two officers and two 'citizens' whom I easily spotted as their informers. They said that they possessed a search warrant, but refused to produce it.


"We'll do that later, don't be so formal," they said. They also refused to tell me why the court had granted them the search warrant. They kept Slavica and my son Sasa in one room, telling them to sit on the sofa and not to get up unless they had to; not to go out on the terrace; and, if they really had to go to the toilet, not to lock the door behind them.


They had, of course, removed our mobile telephone and discretely asked me whether I possessed a firearm, pretending they didn't know I had a gun.


When they were sure the gun was back at my mother's house, they contented themselves with confiscating my gun license, ID card and passport. In the meantime, I heard my computer go on in the study.


Ten minutes later, they called me into the study and sat me down in a chair. They began to print off files from my packed hard disk. I couldn't see what they were printing, but the 'citizens' were signing each freshly printed document.


There printed off ninety pages in all. They searched the whole room, examined every piece of paper. The whole thing went on for about two hours. When they finished, they told me to come with them.


"Take something warm with you, the nights are cold," they said. When I asked them what my status was, they laughed, "Come on sir, it's all right, we just want you to explain a few things."


They took me to the offices of the State Security Service. There the three informers started cross-examining me. "Let's make one thing clear," said one of them. "This could be short and simple or long and complicated. The decision is yours."


I said I had no intention of being a hero. The whole night they kept bringing me copies of my stories one by one and singled out sentences, demanding to know where I got the information from.


These were stories about the police or the army and they wanted me to reveal my sources. But these 'sources' did not exist, or at least not in the form they had imagined. I tried to explain that the information came from people I spoke to in Kraljevo. It was public knowledge.


They didn't believe me. I was given a pen and a piece of paper and they dictated my statement. They dictated and I wrote. And when I wanted to say something in my own words we had to 'discuss' what it was I was going to say.


I had to sign each page of my 'statement'. This went on the whole night and a good part of the next day. They took shifts, and I sat in an uncomfortable chair and wrote on and on.


After some time, they brought me a typed-up version. I had to sign each page. I also signed a specially prepared statement which said that I had written everything myself and that I hadn't been put under any pressure.


Then they left me with a guard. "Oh, my dear Filipovic," he said at one point, "none of this was necessary."


"None of what?" I asked.


"Well, all this writing business. Why don't you write about normal things? This way, you betray the state for tuppence and then, when you get arrested, you kick up a fuss."


"But I did nothing wrong," I said.


"What do you mean you did nothing wrong?" he looked at me mockingly. "You were abroad, weren't you? And who were you in contact with there, eh?! With foreign nationals, of course, and now you blame some devil or the other for your troubles. Oh, my dear Filipovic, you can't do that. You are all fifth-columnist."


I couldn't believe my ears. But I kept quiet, trying not to laugh. I then started to think about getting a lawyer.


They came for me in the afternoon. They led me through some hidden passageway to a car and drove in the direction of the high court.


The men who were in my flat earlier, who questioned me the whole night, looked quite different now. They had icy expressions.


After a short wait, we went in to see the high court judge Milija Kurcubic. I noticed that my wife had found a lawyer, our friend Slavisa Vojinovic, but the police wouldn't let him speak to me.


In the courtroom, the prosecutor immediately demanded that the court pronounce the case outside its jurisdiction and pass it onto the military judiciary. The judge said that he would decide what to do after the hearing.


I was half-dead from fatigue, maddened by the mess I was in. I didn't know what was happening to me. The judge informed me that state security had charged me with espionage and spreading false information.


I couldn't believe my ears. Espionage?! Ridiculous! The judge questioned me about the charge. Before I answered, I asked him to let me explain the circumstances under which I had signed my original statement.


He agreed, and I put on record that everything I had signed at the police station was signed under pressure and that I wished to retract certain parts of my statement.....


To be continued in the next week issue of Balkans Crisis Report


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