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Former Kosovo Minister Acquitted

Tribunal appeals chamber reverses contempt conviction.
By Simon Jennings
Appeal judges at the Hague tribunal have reversed the conviction of Kosovo’s former culture minister, who was found guilty in December 2008 of warning a witness off testifying at the war crimes trial of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj.

Trial judges had sentenced Astrit Haraqija and his former assistant and political journalist Bajrush Morina to five months and three months imprisonment respectively for contempt of court after it found that the two ethnic Albanians from Kosovo had interfered with the administration of justice by interfering with a protected witness.

Haraqija had been found guilty of persuading Morina to meet a witness – known only as witness two to conceal his identity – and ask him not to give evidence.

Morina’s conviction and sentence were both affirmed this week after judges dismissed his appeal as well as the prosecution’s call for tougher sentences for both men.

Haradinaj, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was acquitted by the tribunal in April 2008 after the prosecution failed to prove charges of war crimes committed against Serbs in Kosovo in 1998. Prosecutors are currently appealing against the acquittal.

Hague judges said that some of the witnesses scheduled to testify in the Haradinaj trial had been afraid to travel to The Netherlands.

“The trial was being held in an atmosphere where witnesses felt unsafe,” said Judge Alphons Orie in the judgement acquitting Haradinaj of persecution, torture and rape.

According to a statement issued by the court on July 23, appeal judges granted Haraqija’s appeal, ruling that trial judges had placed too much weight on evidence - most of it “double or even triple hearsay”- that Haraqija had pressured Morina into dissuading witness two from giving evidence.

“Although the trial chamber reasonably concluded that Morina’s personal situation as well as the content of his conversation with witness two suggested that he was pressured, it does not necessarily follow that this pressure came from Haraqija,” read the appeal judgement.

Haraqija and Morina had been on provisional release from custody in The Hague since February 9 and April 8 respectively when both completed the sentences handed down by the trial chamber.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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