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Jailed Witness Requests Early Release

Former KLA member given custodial sentence after pleading guilty to contempt charges.
By Rachel Irwin

A key Kosovo Albanian witness who was recently sentenced to two months in prison for refusing to testify has requested an early release.

Shefqet Kabashi, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was called as a prosecution witness both in the original proceedings against ex-Kosovo president Ramush Haradinaj in 2007 and in the ongoing partial retrial. He refused to answer questions in both trials, and pleaded guilty to contempt charges stemming from the first one.

On September 16, he was sentenced to two months in prison, with credit for time served since his August 17 arrest. The prosecution is currently investigating whether further contempt charges relating to the retrial should be brought.

Kabashi - who has an asylum application pending in the Unites States - is considered a crucial witness in the case against Haradinaj, who was originally acquitted on all 37 counts against him in 2008. The absence of Kabashi’s testimony is, in part, what compelled the appeals chamber to order a partial retrial on six counts in 2010.

In their recent decision to jail Kabashi, the bench took into consideration that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being tortured in a Serbian prison; the fact that he offered an apology for his actions; and that he has a newborn son.

However, the judges also noted that the contempt charges stem from 2007 and he did not appear to face them for “more than four years”. They also said that the sentence was meant to contribute to achieving a “general deterrent effect”.

Kabashi’s lawyer, Michael Karnavas, argues that according to the tribunal rules governing these issues, his client will be eligible for early release on September 25, since he will have served two-thirds of his sentence.

Karnavas notes, however, that the rules are meant for those who are already serving out prison sentences in host countries, and there is no specification for those serving an entire sentence in the United Nations Detention Unit, UNDU, in The Hague.

“Preventing a convicted person who is incarcerated at the UNDU from exercising his statutory right to request early release would be contrary to the spirit of the statute and the rules,” Karnavas writes in the request.

The application is now in the hands of the tribunal’s president, Judge Patrick Robinson.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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