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Prlic Defence Seeks Provisional Release

His lawyer argues that keeping him in custody until trial ends is violating his rights.
By Simon Jennings
The defence team of senior Bosnian Croat politician Jadranko Prlic has asked judges to grant its client provisional release so that he may return to Croatia until the end of his trial.

Prlic, on trial at the Hague tribunal since April 2006, is the former prime minister of the self-proclaimed Croatian statelet of Herceg-Bosna.

He is charged along with five other senior officials – Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic, Bruno Stojic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic – with taking part in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at expelling Bosniaks from parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina controlled by Bosnian Croats during the Croat-Muslim conflict of 1993 to 1994.

Prlic has waived his right to be present during proceedings, which are expected to last until May 2010.

By that time, and taking into account six previous stints of provisional release which he has been granted, Prlic will have been in custody for more than four years.

Prlic’s lawyer, Michael Karnavas, said that keeping him in custody for so long is “contrary to his presumption of innocence and in violation of his right to a fair trial”.

He argued that rules at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, do not limit the granting of provisional release to periods of court recess – during which it is often given by judges.

He also challenged what he called an “unsound” emerging case law – the legal system based on judges’ past decisions rather than on statutory legislation – which implies that “sufficiently compelling humanitarian reasons” must apply for provisional release to be granted after the prosecution has completed its case.

“This requirement [which has been apparent in previous decisions made on provisional release] and the consequent presumption in favour of detention [if no such reasons are presented] are without any legal foundation,” said Karnavas.

“Nothing suggests that Dr Prlic will not return to the custody of the [United Nations prison] when compelled to do so by the trial chamber.”

According to Karnavas, when Prlic has previously been granted provisional release he has always abided by court rules by not absconding or interfering with witnesses.

His application is supported by a letter from the Croatian government guaranteeing assistance to the tribunal in ensuring that any provisional release is conducted lawfully.

“The Government of the Republic of Croatia shall also undertake any necessary steps to ensure that Mr Prlic re-appears for the trial, and during his provisional release that he does not influence or pose threat to a witness, victim or any other person,” reads the letter.

Prlic surrendered to the tribunal in April 2004. The prosecution rested its case in January 2008 and the defence teams started presenting their evidence in May 2008. A verdict may not be reached until the beginning of 2011.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.