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Source: Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade
November 22, 1999

Charges against Kosovo Albanians accused of politically motivated offenses must be dropped

Criminal proceedings are currently under way in Serbia against several hundred Kosovo Albanians who were arrested during the NATO military intervention and charged with offenses against the constitutional order and security of FR Yugoslavia. The majority of these trials, in which the defendants are accused of conspiracy for the purpose of hostile activity in conjunction with terrorism, are being held before the District Court in Leskovac. Only a few cases are being heard by the District Courts in Zajecar and Vranje.

Some 110 detainees, who were held in custody for six months and were not indicted, were reportedly released in November. Twenty-one persons were discharged from the Zajecar and 27 from the Leskovac prisons, and arrived in Pristina on 14 November. There has been no confirmation of the release of the remaining 62. On 17 and 18 November, the Leskovac District Court for the first time heard 128 Albanians from the Cabrat neighborhood of Djakovica who, along with 27 others, allegedly carried out three separate acts of terrorism during the state of war in which two members of the Serbian security forces were killed and several wounded.

On the basis of information collected on the ground from eyewitnesses and the statements of the accused to the investigating judge, the Humanitarian Law Center points out that these persons are civilians who were arrested in the course of May, either in the streets, at their homes, or taken out of columns of expelled Kosovo Albanians fleeing to neighboring Albania. About 150 Albanians were convicted in October and November and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years.

The strictest sentences were handed down by the Prokuplje District Court. The presiding member of the panel at all trials before this Court is its President, Judge Branislav Niketic. In every case and regardless of whether the accused has defense counsel of his own choice, Judge Niketic assigns court-appointed lawyers, most frequently Vukoje Jokovic from Pristina and Desimir Stamenkovic from Prokuplje. The HLC has learned that Desimir Stamenkovic waived the right of appeal in the case of Avdullah Lutolli and Avdurahman Latifi, who were sentenced to five years in prison, thus depriving them of the right to resort to a superior court and prove their innocence. Taking advantage of the defendants' fear and ignorance of legal procedure,

Judge Branislav Niketic entered in the trial record that they fully agreed with the actions of their court-appointed lawyer. The HLC has also been informed that Judge Niketic denied a motion by the lawyer Gorica Stanisavljevic to restore the rights of the defendants.

Furthermore, Judge Niketic on 11 November resumed a trial in spite of a motion filed by lawyers Husnija Bitiqi, Gradimir Ilic and Dragoljub Todorovic with regard to violations of the Criminal Procedure Code and seeking his recusal and the recusal of the Prokuplje District Prosecutor, the Serbian Public Prosecutor and the President the Serbian Supreme Court. Where the criminal offenses of terrorism and conspiracy for the purpose of hostile activity are concerned, the Leskovac District Court hands down more lenient sentences. When sentencing defendants convicted of setting up subversive groups,

Judges Brankica Dasic and Zivota Djoincevic hand down terms of two to two-and-a-half years, whereas Judge Goran Petronijevic imposes prison terms of three and more years for the same offense. Judges Dasic and Djoincevic give those found guilty of membership of the Kosovo Liberation Army a maximum of one-and-a-half years in prison, while Judge Petronijevic sentences them to at least three years. These judges conduct up to six trials a day, each of which lasts from 30 minutes to, at best, one hour.

Observers have the impression that they are hurrying to conclude all the proceedings as soon as possible. The judges render their decisions on the basis of the statements made by the accused to the police and the investigating judge. That the trials are merely for the sake of form is obvious also from the fact that the judges fail to enter in the record the testimony of the defendants in which they describe how confessions were extracted from them, noting only that they deny the statements they made in the pre-trial proceedings. In addition, the trials are held without professional interpreters: four people who act as interpreters are by profession a mason, jeweler, retired police officer and typist.
Natasa Kandic, the Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Center, urges judges to stop these political trials and to demonstrate their courage as professionals by dismissing all cases involving politically motivated offenses in connection with the Kosovo conflict. She calls on the competent judge to discharge immediately Jahir Agushi, a cancer patient, whose trial is scheduled for 8 December.

With regard to the Djakovica group, Natasa Kandic expects the Leskovac District Court to dismiss the charges against civilians who were arrested while fleeing to Albania, in the streets, or at their homes. She also urges the appropriate Serbian government agencies publish the names of the latest group of released Kosovo Albanians in order to clear up the confusion caused when the International Red Cross recently announced that 47 detainees had been released.
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