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".


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”