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17 February 2009
News

Mejakic et al: "Distorted truth"

BIRN BIH

The Defence teams of three indictees charged with crimes committed in Prijedor present first-instance verdict appeals.


Appearing before the Appellate Chamber of the State Court the Defence of the three indictees, charged with crimes committed in detention camps in Prijedor, presented first-instance verdict appeals, calling for a retrial or acquittal.

The Defence argued that the criminal proceedings and the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been substantively violated and facts had been incompletely determined; they also questioned the sentences. The Prosecution responded by saying the appeals were groundless.

At the end of May 2008 the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina rendered a first-instance verdict sentencing Zeljko Mejakic to 21, Momcilo Gruban to 11 and Dusko Knezevic to 31 years' imprisonment for having participated in crimes against non-Serb civilians in the Omarska and Keraterm detention camps.

Presenting their appeals before the Appellate Chamber, the Defence attorneys said that the trial was not "fair and righteous, while the parties were not treated in an equal manner".

"The Court rushed into discovering its own truth, without confronting the statements given by various witnesses, who had opposite views of the same events. It seems that the truth was mala fide distorted, while certain facts were taken out of the broader context," said Mejakic's Defence attorney, Jovan Simic.

Simic added that the Court had neglected the fact that "some Prosecution witnesses admitted that they had lied at the trial", adding that the Court did not take into consideration mitigating circumstances, such as the "voluntary surrender, deteriorated health and testimony of the first indictee".

"Every soul in Prijedor knows by now that I was not commander of the detention camp. This is a classic example of prefabricated indictment which alleges that I was chief of security," Mejakic said addressing the Appellate Chamber.

Dusko Panic, Defence attorney of Gruban, said that the State Prosecution had failed to offer one single piece of evidence proving that the second indictee was "commander of guards" in Omarska detention camp, adding that the Court used different terms to define his function in the first-instance verdict.

"The verdict alleges that Gruban was commander, chief, and guard shift chief, which are three different functions. There is no evidence that confirms that certain crimes were committed during the course of his shifts. The fact is that his neighbours from Prijedor were detained in the detention camp. It is awkward that only a few witnesses spoke about those crimes," Panic said.

Gruban addressed the Appellate Chamber, claiming that he could not have had a leading role as a reserve policeman, and adding that he tried to help the people who were detained in Omarska detention camp.

"I sympathized with those people. I treated them with respect and honour. I tried to help as much as I could. I am sorry for not having been tried at The Hague, because I would have been acquitted of charges in that case," Gruban said.

The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina said that the first-instance Chamber had explained, "clearly and correctly", the participation of each indictee, adding that the Defence's appeals were "irrelevant".

The Appellate Chamber asked the Defence to submit a written response to the Prosecution's response to the appeal by Thursday, February 19.
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