Vojislav Seselj Convicted for Contempt at The Hague
Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj was convicted of contempt of court at the Hague tribunal for a third time this week and sentenced to two years in prison.
Seselj was found guilty of failing to remove from his website certain documents and books which disclosed the identity of protected prosecution witnesses, after judges had ordered him to do so.
“The accused confirmed that it was he personally who decides about the contents of the website,” presiding Judge Stefan Trechsel said as the verdict was read out on June 28. “Therefore, he had the possibility to remove the documents from his website as he was obliged to, and had willingly failed to do so. This action represents willful and conscious interference with justice.
“Disrespecting orders of this nature is a serious criminal infraction which not only interferes with justice, but creates a danger to undermine the trust of the public in the [Hague tribunal], and therefore interferes with the functions invested into the tribunal.”
Judge Trechsel said the contempt of court consisted of “the nature of the infraction and of the materials which have been disclosed”, while “an aggravating circumstance was [Seselj's] spiteful behaviour which had endangered the efficiency of the tribunal”.
He said the trial chamber looked at whether there were mitigating circumstances, and found none.
The judge, however, said that he personally disagreed with the length of the sentence, and would have preferred a “significantly lower” term.
During the session, Seselj again expressed his hostility to the court. Invited by the presiding judge to stand for the verdict, he refused, calling the judge “insane” for thinking he would do so.
Since his surrender to the tribunal in 2003, Seselj has represented himself and has said repeatedly that he will “destroy” the Hague tribunal.
The accused first faced contempt charges in 2009, and was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison for revealing details about protected prosecution witnesses in one of the books he authored. After a second contempt trial on related charges, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison in October 2011 for disclosing the identities of 11 witnesses.
His third contempt trial on June 18 lasted less than a quarter of an hour and was one of the shortest in the tribunal’s history. Seselj refused to testify in his own defence, saying the court was illegal and biased. (See Seselj Appears at Third Contempt Trial.)
In his main criminal trial, Seselj is charged with nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, torture and forcible transfer – in what prosecutors said was a campaign to expel the non-Serb population from parts of Croatia and Bosnia between August 1991 and September 1993. He remains leader of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, based in Belgrade.
Seselj’s war crimes trial has endured repeated delays since it officially began in November 2007, a year after the original trial date was postponed because he went on hunger strike. Closing arguments were held in March 2012 and a verdict is expected by spring 2013.
Velma Šarić is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
Tags: Vojislav Seselj , Serbia , The Hague , Politics , International Justice
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