Seselj Defies Court Order

Accused refuses to comply with judges’ demand that he remove confidential information from his website.

Seselj Defies Court Order

Accused refuses to comply with judges’ demand that he remove confidential information from his website.

Monday, 14 September, 2009
A Serbian nationalist politician on trial for war crimes in the Hague has refused to remove a book that reveals the identities of protected witnesses from his website, despite having been convicted of contempt of court for disclosing this confidential information.

At a status conference held ahead of the resumption of Vojislav Seselj’s war crimes trial – which was temporarily suspended in February this year after prosecutors alleged that the accused had intimidated witnesses – prosecution lawyer Mathias Marcussen noted that the offending book remained on the defendant’s website.

Seselj, who is the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, a position he held during the Yugoslav wars of the Nineties, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Balkans wars of the Nineties in an alleged bid to create a so-called Greater Serbia.

Other charges against the accused, who is conducting his own defence in his trial which began in November 2007, include murder, torture and persecution committed as he allegedly sought to drive out non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993.

On July 24, Seselj was convicted of contempt of court in separate proceedings for revealing the names and details of three protected witnesses appearing in his war crimes case in a book he published from his prison cell in The Hague.

A special panel of judges at the United Nations court who heard the contempt case sentenced him to 15 months in prison for purposely defying an order given by the judges in the war crimes case that the identities should remain protected. Seselj filed a notice to appeal this conviction on August 18.

In a submission on August 27, prosecutors argued that the accused should have his right to defend himself in his war crimes trial removed in light of his conviction for contempt of court and his subsequent actions.

They noted that he had failed to comply with the trial chamber’s order to remove the book - which has not been named by the tribunal - from his website and to report to the chamber by August 7 to inform it that he had done so.

As a result, his “self-representation must be terminated and counsel be imposed”, prosecutors said in the submission.

At the latest status conference, presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti asked Seselj if he planned to respond to this submission.

A characteristically combative Seselj said that he could not do so because he had not received the submission and so had not read it. However, he added that he was against the prosecution’s request that counsel be imposed in principle.

“They’re asking for my right to defence [to] be taken away from me; this is not possible in the civilised world,” he said.

He also insisted that his recent contempt conviction could not be considered final, because he had filed notice to appeal.

“That conviction is still not valid; I have announced that I will appeal and my appeal is pending,” he said.

The prosecution submission of August 27 was a supplement to a previous motion submitted by prosecutors in July 2008, in which they accused Seselj of harassing witnesses and requested that his right to self-representation be terminated.

The previous motion was heavily redacted, and the judge mentioned in court this week that the latest supplement contained a confidential and ex parte annex. Ex parte is a legal term meaning for the benefit of only one party.

Seselj took issue with this annex being unavailable to the defence, saying that he could not respond to a submission if he was not aware of all of its parts, and described the proceedings as “Kafkaesque”.

“I will not respond to the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) motions that have ex-parte parts or ex-parte additions. I will never again do that,’ he said.

Seselj also said that he was against having a counsel imposed on him because such a lawyer would be “a spy from the OTP who would do everything in court to argue in favour of the prosecution”.

However, the judge said that no progress could be made on the issue until Seselj saw the August 27 prosecution submission.

At this week’s hearing, prosecution lawyer Marcussen re-affirmed the accused’s failure to comply with the order to report to the tribunal what steps he had taken to remove “certain material” from the internet.

“He did not do so within the deadline he was given and it is also my understanding that at least as of yesterday, the material has not been removed from the internet,” he said.

Seselj responded that he would not act on the order until his appeal against his conviction for contempt was concluded.

“My book has been published, it has not been banned. If there has been a ban imposed on the distribution of that book then the book would have to be removed from all the libraries and burned,’” he said.

“The book has not been banned and it will remain on my site.”

Judge Antonetti, who did not comment on the Seselj’s failure to remove the book, said that the defendant must be given time to read the prosecution’s recent submission and that a further hearing would be held in October.

Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.
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