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Seselj Urges Court Not to Bow to Political Pressure

Defendant angered by Council of Europe calls for his trial to start soon.
By Lisa Clifford
Attempts to set a date for the trial of Vojislav Seselj fell flat last week week as the Serbian ultra-nationalist leader urged judges not to succumb to political pressure and rush his case to court.

The week began with a resolution from the Council of Europe pointing out that Seselj has been in custody for more than four years and urging that his trial begin soon.

Pre-trial judge Jean Claude Antonetti responded quickly, telling a July 4 hearing to discuss issues relating to the case that the trial could start on November 7. The first witness could appear on November 13, he said.

Though the Council of Europe resolution was backed by members of Seselj’s own Serbian Radical Party, he wasn’t pleased, saying early November was an unrealistic date for the trial to begin.

“The Council of Europe don’t care about how I’m tried, the only thing that matters to them is that I be convicted,” he told the court. “I’m calling on you to resist this political pressure.”

The trial was set to start last year but a hunger strike by Seselj forced its indefinite postponement. He was protesting a court decision imposing a lawyer to handle his defence – something he vehemently opposed.

He is now representing himself.

Previous court hearings involving Seselj have often been volatile and this one was no exception.

Prosecutor Christine Dhal accused Seselj of “yelling” as he addressed the court and asked Antonetti to tell him to lower his voice. Seselj responded, “I don’t see how I can turn the volume of my voice down. This is my natural voice. This is a God given thing. Just as God bestowed beauty on the counsel for the prosecution, God bestowed this voice on me.”

One of the charges against Seselj is the direct and public denigration through "hate speech" of the Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations in Vukovar, Zvornik and Hrtkovci on the basis of their ethnicities.

He is accused of planning and inciting the extermination and murder, persecution, deportation and forcible transfer of non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995.

Seselj suggested March 2008 was a more reasonable date for the trial to begin, though later implied he might need even longer to prepare.

He told Antonetti he is still waiting for thousands of pages of material from the prosecution to be translated into Serbian. He said he also has prosecution motions to respond to - including an amended indictment - and possible appeals to make.

“I’ve been waiting for four and a half years and I’ll wait another four and a half years,” said Seselj. “I won’t give up my trial-based rights.” He then went on to say, “My right to have a trial within a reasonable time has been irrevocably violated. I’ll wait. I’ll wait until 2020.”

By the end of the hearing, Antonetti appeared to have conceded the trial wouldn’t be starting in November. Even Dahl admitted a “firm trial date may be beyond our reach at this point”.

Another status conference is scheduled for August 17.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


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