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Vojislav Seselj in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj appeared before the Hague tribunal this week in the third contempt case brought against him.
He entered a not guilty plea and demanded that judges let him address the Serbian public via a video link from his detention unit, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in the country on May 6.
Seselj remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, based in Belgrade. His wife Jadranka is running for president as the SRS candidate.
Seselj has already been sentenced for contempt of court twice at the Hague tribunal. In the first case, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for disclosing information about the identity of three protected prosecution witnesses in one of his books. In the second, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for disclosing the identities of 11 witnesses.
In this latest contempt of court case, Seselj faces charges for failing to remove content from his website, including six submissions to the tribunal which have been classified as confidential. He also failed to remove four books he had written from the site. These books apparently contained information about protected witnesses who appeared in his trial.
Seselj entered a non-guilty plea in this contempt case on July 6 last year. However, he had to appear before the court this week, as the contempt charges against him had in the interim been extended, in view of his non-compliance with the order to remove these materials from the website.
Seselj’s son, Nikola, is subject to a similar order, and he sent a reply last August stating that the only orders he intended to comply with were those of his father.
The main trial against Seselj ended in March this year, and prosecutors requested a 28-year prison sentence because of what they said were “grave and heinous crimes”. The judges will announce their judgement at a later date.
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 non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993. He is further accused of giving numerous inflammatory speeches and recruiting a force of volunteers who murdered, raped and tortured non-Serbs in both Croatia and Bosnia.
In addition, he is charged with being part of a joint criminal enterprise together with numerous high ranking Serb political, military and paramilitary wartime leaders, including ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
This week, in addition to entering a not guilty plea, Seselj used his appearance before the trial chamber to raise a number of matters relating to the contempt case. He said that he was planning to invite “a couple of witnesses” in addition to giving testimony himself.
He declared himself fit, despite complaining that his health was “worse day in, day out”.
In reference to his condition, the accused also told the judges that they “should hurry up with the proceedings before the French, British and Americans get to their final goal of getting rid of me”.
He explained that “western intelligence services were killing [him] softly”.
The accused also told the chamber that they reminded him of an “inquisition” and that it was “infamous” that a “writer had to be liable for the books he wrote”.
Referring to the request to remove the mentioned materials from his website, Seselj said that he would “never comply”.
“The last thing I would or could ever do to one of my creations would be to destroy it. And, to take off the books from the internet would mean that I would destroy them,” he said.
In addition, he repeated his often-stated claim that “the tribunal had no jurisdiction at all, since it was an illegal institution founded in an illicit way”.
Among the other issues he raised this week was a request to hold a press conference by video link on the eve of the Serbian elections.
“I request… the chamber to enable me to hold a video conference by video link on the occasion of the upcoming elections in Serbia,” Seselj said.
The accused stated that his “regular appearance” in public was of major interest to his political party.
Explaining his request, he added, “My political party, the Radicals, is running in these elections. I am heading the electoral list and my wife, Jadranka Seselj, is a registered candidate in the presidential elections.”
On the content of his planned address, he said, “I very dearly wish to explain to the fellow-citizens of Serbia why it is important to take the current regime out of power and prevent the victory of the traitor party of Tomislav Nikolic.”
He was referring to his former party colleague Nikolic, who left to form the Serb Progressive Party.
At that point Judge Trechsel, who will be presiding in this contempt case, interrupted Seselj, telling him that “such argumentation was not permissible at the tribunal”.
A date for the hearings in Seselj's third contempt trial is yet to be set.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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