Serb Seselj sentenced to 10 years, but UN judges say time already served

Updated 11 April 2018

Serb Seselj sentenced to 10 years, but UN judges say time already served

The Hague: UN judges Wednesday found radical Serb Vojislav Seselj guilty on appeal of crimes against humanity, but the firebrand politician will remain a free man because of time already served behind bars.

"The appeals chamber reverses Seselj's acquittals for instigating persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity," presiding judge Theodor Meron said at a hearing in The Hague, sentencing the firebrand politician to 10 years behind bars.

The judges however said that in line with the court's rules, "Seselj's sentence has been served" after he spent about 12 years in jail on trial at the former Yugoslav war crimes court.

Seselj snubbed the hearing and was not present when the verdict was read by judges at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

He had been acquitted in March 2016 of nine war crimes and crimes against humanity charges after a trial lasting more than eight years at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

A three-judge panel led by French judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said in 2016 that prosecutors had "failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt" or provide sufficient evidence that Seselj was responsible for the crimes he had been charged with.

The verdict had been heavily criticised by law experts and historians who said it had rewritten the history of the Balkans conflicts.

The five appeals judges agreed Wednesday, sharply overturning the original trial's findings.

Either the initial court had "ignored a substantial portion of highly relevant evidence and its own findings, or it erred in fact," Meron said.

"The appeals chamber finds that no reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that there was no widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serbian population in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Wednesday's appeal was before the MICT, which is wrapping up the last cases after the ICTY closed in December.

During his marathon trial, prosecutors alleged Seselj was behind the murders of scores of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs between 1991 and 1993 in the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart, after the fall of communism.

The prosecution had sought a 28-year-sentence for the man they referred to as the "chief propagandist of the Greater Serbia". They said he had warned that "rivers of blood" would flow in Bosnia if his vision for a Greater Serbia was opposed.

Seselj denied the allegations and in particular making two speeches highlighted by prosecutors in the indictment.

In one address, prosecutors say he encouraged Serbs "not to spare a person" in the 1991 siege of the Croat city of Vukovar. In another a year later, he allegedly described Muslims as "excrement" in the Serbian town of Mali Zvornik.

"Lies," Seselj told AFP earlier this month, adding that he did not regret his role in the conflict.

"We will never give up the idea of a Greater Serbia," Seselj said, adding that his extreme right-wing Serbian Radical Party exists "to unite within the same state all the territories where the Serb people live".


Oxford University probes ‘sale’ of ancient Bible fragments originally from Egypt

Updated 16 October 2019

Oxford University probes ‘sale’ of ancient Bible fragments originally from Egypt

  • The university is investigating wether an associate professor unilaterally sold about a dozen fragments to the US retailer Hobby Lobby
  • The artifacts were part of the Oxyrhynchus collection owned by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society

LONDON: Oxford University said Wednesday it has launched an investigation into claims that one of its professors sold ancient Bible fragments to the controversial US company of a billionaire evangelical Christian.
The renowned British university confirmed it was seeking to establish if Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology and Greek literature, unilaterally sold about a dozen fragments to the US retailer Hobby Lobby.
The arts and crafts chain was founded by Steve Green, who is also chairman of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, and has courted controversy for supporting conservative causes.
The artifacts were part of the Oxyrhynchus collection owned by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which initiated its own probe earlier this year after it emerged its items may be held by the museum. 

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project is a collection of centuries-old manuscripts recovered from an ancient Egyptian rubbish dump during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“We can confirm we are engaging with the Egypt Exploration Society with regard to the allegations concerning papyri from the Oxyrhynchus Collection,” an Oxford University spokesperson said.
“The University is conducting its own internal investigation to seek to establish the facts.”
Obbink did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.
In a statement, the EES said it had been working with the museum to clarify whether any texts from its collection had been sold or offered for sale to Hobby Lobby or its agents.
That followed the emergence of a copy of a redacted 2017 contract purportedly between Obbink and the retailer for the sale of six items, “including four New Testament fragments probably of EES provenance.”
The EES statement added the museum had subsequently provided photos identifying 13 texts from its collection which had been “taken without authorization” and were now being returned.
“The (museum) has informed the EES that 11 of these pieces came into its care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor Obbink, most of them in two batches in 2010,” EES said.
The society noted it had not re-appointed Obbink in August 2016 as a general editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project partly due to concerns “about his alleged involvement in the marketing of ancient texts.”
It added he was then banned from any access to its collection “pending his satisfactory clarification of the 2013 contract” which he had yet to provide.
“We cannot comment here on any broader legal issues arising from these findings, except to note that they are under consideration by all the institutions concerned,” EES said.
It is not the first time both Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible have been caught up in an artifacts controversy.
The company was forced to pay a $3 million settlement in 2017 and give up 5,500 artifacts — including ancient clay cuneiform tablets from Iraq — that the US Justice Department said were illegally imported.
Meanwhile the museum last year announced that five items it had said were fragments of the ancient manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were in fact fake, and would no longer be displayed.