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Hague Judges Seek Views on Provisional Release for Seselj

Defendant says he will continue to speak out against the tribunal if allowed to leave detention.

The chamber hearing the case against Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj this week asked the parties to provide their views on the possible provisional release of the accused.

Seselj has been in detention since 2003. Last year, he asked the bench to throw out his case after one of the judges, Frederik Harhoff, was disqualified a few months before the scheduled verdict for “demonstrating bias” in a personal email he sent out to numerous contacts. (See also Decision To Disqualify Seselj Judge Upheld)

“That the proceedings against Vojislav Seselj have been dragged out is so obvious that it is beyond dispute that [he] has been subjected to unbelievable torture,” Seselj’s motion stated.

He demanded that the tribunal award him 12 million euro in compensation.

In December 2013, the chamber dismissed both requests and decided the case would continue once a replacement judge, Mandiaye Niang, had familarised himself with the lengthy court record.

Seselj is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.

His trial was supposed to start in 2006, but was postponed for nearly a year after he went on hunger strike. When proceedings finally got under way in November 2007, they were delayed for long periods at a time.

Seselj, who represents himself in the courtroom, chose not to present a defence case. Closing arguments in his trial were held in March 2012.

Simultaneously, Seselj has been tried and convicted of contempt of court three times for revealing the personal details of protected witnesses.

In presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti’s June 13 order to the parties, he noted that Judge Niang has indicated he will need longer than the period of six months he cited at the end of last year.

“In view of this information, the current proceedings will be prolonged without it being possible, for the time being, to give an exact date when the judgement will be pronounced,” Judge Antonetti said.

He noted that Seselj had been in the tribunal’s custody since 2003, that he had already served the sentences handed down for contempt of court, and that “the chamber is constantly concerned to ensure the respect of the rights of the accused, which implies that it makes sure to limit the provisional detention of the accused strictly to the needs of the current proceedings.

“In view of the foregoing and the concerns about the accused's health, the chamber deems it appropriate to obtain the views of the parties on possible provisional release of the accused” if it decides that this is in keeping with the rules, Judge Antonetti wrote.

In a written response on June 17, Seselj said that if he were to be provisionally released, he would not accept any restrictions except a requirement to remain in Serbia. He said he would not report periodically to the police, and would take part in political meetings, give media interviews, and “publicly criticise the tribunal as an illegal international court”.

The prosecution has not yet filed its response.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR's Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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