Hartmann Declines to Enter Plea

French journalist is allowed to wait until decision on her request for financial aid is made.

Hartmann Declines to Enter Plea

French journalist is allowed to wait until decision on her request for financial aid is made.

Tuesday, 4 November, 2008
Florence Hartmann, the prosecution's former spokeswoman, found herself in the dock at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal this week charged with contempt of court.

However, Hartmann – who worked for the court’s ex-chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, from 1999-2006 – will now wait until the court’s registry has decided if she is entitled to legal support before entering her plea.

“She has not been identified as indigent, financially speaking, and therefore may not be able to call on me as her counsel. That’s why she has decided not to plead today,” Hartmann’s French lawyer, William Bourdon, told the court. “There is no particular urgency in this case.”

Although presiding judge Carmel Agius said that he did not see the connection between the registrar’s decision on legal aid and the defendant entering a plea on the charges against her, he, nevertheless, granted the delay.

Under tribunal rules, a defendant has 30 days from an initial appearance to formally enter a plea, although it does not appear that Hartmann will need this long.

“I suppose the matter will be resolved well within the 30 days. It’s not in our interest for the case to go on forever,” said Hartmann.

Hartmann is charged with revealing elements of confidential decisions made by appeal judges in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague tribunal.

Milosevic, who went on trial in The Hague in 2002 for war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, died in his cell in March 2006, before proceedings were complete.

According to the order issued by the trial chamber in place of an indictment on August 27, Hartmann is responsible for “knowingly and willfully disclosing information in knowing violation of an order of [judges]”.

The court order states that the disclosures were made in Hartmann’s 2007 book Paix and Chatiment (Peace and Punishment), and in her article, Vital Genocide Documents Concealed, which was published on the Bosnian Institute website on January 21, 2008. Hartmann allegedly revealed the contents of two confidential decisions – made by appeals judges on September 20, 2005 and April 6, 2006 – while at the same time referring to the fact that they were confidential.

Hartmann was charged almost a year after Paix and Chatiment was released in September 2007. The book was translated into Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian some months later.

If convicted, she could face a fine of up to 100,000 euro or a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

In an interview with IWPR just after the charges were announced, Hartmann stated that she would contest the allegations, explaining that what she had published was in the public interest.

Bourdon hinted further this week that this argument would be part of Hartmann’s defence.

“The case against Miss Hartmann raises issues of principle – is [about] the duty of information, freedom of expression – and this touches the need for the public opinion to know how international justice operates and works,” he told Judge Agius.

At the start of the hearing on October 27, Hartmann sat in the dock of the court where she used to work. Bourdon asked Judge Agius to allow her to sit closer to him – on the benches usually reserved for lawyers – on the grounds that she was not charged with crimes against international humanitarian law, unlike most other defendants at the court.

“She should not be there in a place that is usually occupied by those alleged to have committed very serious crimes,” said Bourdon, claiming Hartmann was “only charged with some kind of intellectual offence”.

Although he granted Bourdon’s request, Judge Agius warned the accused of the seriousness of the charges against her.

“I suggest you do not, even for a second, underestimate the gravity of the crime of contempt,” he said.

Bourdon also requested that Hartmann not be photographed by the press in the courtroom, claiming that any such photograph “unduly stigmatises” her.

“If she were to be photographed in court, she would be part of a very restricted club – merely individuals who are prosecuted for crimes against humanity. It is not necessary for her to join this club,” submitted Bourdon.

However, Judge Agius rejected his request.

“Such a remedy would have to include also the banning of audio-visual proceedings which is something I am definitely not prepared to do and there has not been one single case [at the tribunal] where that has happened,” said Judge Agius.

While no firm date was set for the trial this week, it looks set to take place in January next year.

Hartmann will appear in court again for a pre-trial hearing on November 14.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Support our journalists