Seselj Convicted of Contempt of Court

Politician given jail term for disclosing identity of protected witnesses.

Seselj Convicted of Contempt of Court

Politician given jail term for disclosing identity of protected witnesses.

Tuesday, 28 July, 2009
A Serbian nationalist politician on trial for war crimes in The Hague has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for revealing the names and personal details of protected witnesses in a book he published.



Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial at the Hague tribunal for crimes of murder, torture and persecution committed during the Yugoslav war as he allegedly sought to drive out non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.



In January this year, the court hearing his war crimes case charged Seselj with “having knowingly and willfully interfered with the administration of justice of the tribunal by disclosing confidential information in violation of orders granting protective measures to three witnesses [in his war crimes trial], and by disclosing excerpts of the written statement of a witness in a book authored by him”.



The name of the book has not been released by the court.



Seselj pleaded not guilty to the contempt charge on March 6, and a trial was held on May 29.



Delivering the verdict on July 24, Judge O-Gon Kwon noted that Seselj had admitted that the book was written on his orders and that it identified all three protected witnesses, thereby violating the orders of judges in the war crimes case that their identities should not be revealed.



“The book abounds with a myriad of detailed personal information related to the [protected] witnesses both under their own names and under the pseudonyms attributed to them in the Seselj case,” Judge Kwon said.



The panel of three judges hearing the contempt case also ruled that Seselj had published the book after judges hearing his war crimes trial had granted protective measures to each of the three witnesses. The bench ruled that Seselj had therefore deliberately ignored the judges’ order by publishing their details.



“The chamber notes with grave concern the deliberate way in which the protective measure decisions imposed by the Seselj trial chamber were defied,” Judge Kwon said. “The chamber considers this a serious interference with the administration of justice.”



Judge Kwon said the 15-month jail term was handed down both as a punishment for the defendant’s conduct as well as a deterrent against any similar future transgressions, “The chamber recognises the need to discourage this type of behaviour, and to take such steps as it can to ensure that there is no repetition of such conduct on the part of the accused or any other person.”



Seselj, who introduced himself at the judgement hearing as “chief enemy of the Hague tribunal”, was also ordered to ensure that the book is withdrawn from his website by August 7.



Seselj’s trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, which started in November 2007, was suspended indefinitely on February 11, 2009, after prosecutors alleged that their witnesses were being intimidated, an accusation that the defendant and his associates deny.



Seselj has been in custody in The Hague since surrendering to the court in February 2003 and he will remain there pending the resumption of his war crimes case. He continues to lead the Serb Radical Party from his prison cell.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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