Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj will be allowed to publish books without first having them reviewed by court officials, despite being found guilty of contempt last year, judges ruled this week during an administrative hearing.
Last November, a few months after Seselj was convicted of revealing confidential details about protected witnesses in one of his books, judges ordered him to submit all future books to the court registry “to determine whether the publication in question contains confidential information that might identify any protected witnesses in the case”.
The registry, however, responded last January – and again on May 17 – that it “neither has the resources nor the case specific knowledge to perform the function in question, which in any event falls outside of the registry’s mandate”.
As a result, Presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said this week that “the accused [can] publish books at his own risk without providing them [to the court] in advance”.
However, the judge noted that the accused should “make sure” he abides by the rules regarding the protected witnesses.
Seselj – who continues to represent himself - reacted to the decision by laughing and grinning.
The accused will face yet another contempt trial for revealing details about 11 protected witnesses in one of his books. Those proceedings have yet to take place because Seselj is requesting that two of the judges be removed from the case.
At one point during this week’s hearing, Seselj produced copies of one of his books – which he said was in its “last edition” - and offered them to judges and to prosecuting attorney Mathias Marcussen.
“If Mr Marcussen wants the books he can take them right now, because I’m not going to give them to him after the session,” Seselj remarked.
He then said that Marcussen should walk over to his table – located on the opposite side of the courtside – and “personally get the books.”
“I don’t understand why everyone is afraid of me!” Seselj exclaimed.
Arrested in 2003, Seselj is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, torture and forcible transfer – for atrocities carried out in an effort to expel the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993. He remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, based in Belgrade.
Seselj’s criminal trial has endured repeated delays since it officially began in November 2007, a full year after the original trial date was postponed due to the accused’s hunger strike.
There are still two witnesses left to testify before the prosecution case is officially over, but this week Judge Antonetti said it is unclear if those witnesses would be able to give evidence at all due to their respective health problems. They might be able to testify – either in person or via video link – at the beginning of July, and the judge said he would let the parties know about the likelihood of that in due course.
Judge Antonetti also addressed the recently discovered notebooks believed to have been written by General Ratko Mladic, who commander the Bosnian Serb army during the war. The notebooks – totaling more than 3,000 pages - were seized from Mladic’s wife’s home by Serbian authorities in February. Scanned copies were handed over to the tribunal in late March, followed by the originals on May 11.
Prosecutors on Seselj’s case are seeking to add portions of the notebooks to their exhibit list, but judges have allowed them additional time - until July 16 - to decide exactly which parts they want to add.
Seselj said this week that he learned about the “so-called Mladic diaries” through the Serbian media, and complained that the prosecution had not yet disclosed the notebooks to him. He then demanded that the prosecution provide paper copies of the “transcripts of these diaries typed up in Serbian language”.
When Marcussen responded that the accused would shortly be receiving scanned copies of the notebooks via the electronic disclosure system, Seselj balked.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the prosecution,” he exclaimed. “This is nonsense!”
He said that judges had already ruled that he was to receive everything on paper, but Marcussen said that decision did not apply to these particular materials.
Seselj then proceeded to lash out at judges, called them his “enemies” from “NATO member countries”.
“If you were objective and impartial, you would never have agreed to be judges in this illegal court!” Seselj exclaimed. “I have been very civil towards you, but that doesn’t mean I have to like you. I don’t like you. Yes, you are my enemies and you have been given the assignment of taking my head off. Well, go ahead and do it!”
“I must tell you that I never been asked to chop your head off or to sentence you,” Judge Antonetti responded. “You may think we are your enemies [but] you are not [our] enemy. You are person who is presumed innocence and has rights.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Antonetti said that he would let the parties know about the testimony of the last two witnesses. After that is sorted out, the next step would be to schedule a hearing – outlined in the rules of procedure - where the prosecution and defence may present arguments on the evidence submitted so far. If the judges feel there is no evidence to support a conviction, they can decide to acquit the accused before the defence case begins.
Seselj said he was still thinking about whether or not to participate in this hearing, which judges said would not take place until September at the earliest.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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