Jezik / Language:
17 December 2015

Witnesses Describe Torture and Abuse of Ljubuski Prisoners by Bosnian Croat Prison Staff

Dzana Brkanic BIRN BiH Sarajevo
A state prosecution witness testifying at the trial of seven former Bosnian Croat prison managers and guards said he was beaten and tortured during his detention in a prison in Ljubuski in 1993.
The state prosecution has charged Ivica Kraljevic, Mato Jelcic, Slavko Skender, Stojan Odak, Vice Bebek, Vinko Radisic and Dragan Milos with war crimes in Ljubuski.

According to the charges, Kraljevic, Jelcic and Skender were managers of the VIZ military investigation prison, located in the police building in Ljubuski, for various periods of time from September 1993 to March 1994. More than 100 Bosniaks from the municipalities of Mostar, Livno, Stolac, Jablanica, Maglaj, Zepce and other parts of Herzegovina were detained there.

The defendants have been charged with holding detained civilians and prisoners of war in inhumane conditions. They allegedly allowed the mistreatment of prisoners, gave them very little food and ordered them to perform forced labour.

Odak, Bebek, Radisic and Milos, former guards at the VIZ prison, have been charged with participating in the abuse of detained civilians and prisoners of war.

State prosecution witness and former prisoner Idriz Habibija testified at today’s hearing. He said he and a protected witness known as S-1 were arrested in May 1993 and were taken to the Heliodrom detention camp. He said he was transferred to a prison in Ljubuski in mid-September 1993.

“I found myself in some underground room. It’s hard to explain. The room, which was shaped like an arch, was built of stones. Its surface was 3x3 meters, according to my estimate. The floor was covered with mud. Our feet sank into it. We had one blanket. There was no light. They forced us to swallow hot food, so we burned our tongues. Rats walked over us,” Habibija said.

“Every time they brought us water, we were hit in the stomach with a full bottle and then on the head with a boot or fist. There was blood,” he said.

Habibija said he was beaten during his detention. He said he was also deprived of food for 74 hours on one occasion and drank his own urine.

“They would continue beating us until they were satisfied. It seemed as if they were drugged, as if they smoked weed and vented by taking it out on us,” Habibija said.

Habibija told the court he was transferred a few days later to a room above ground, where his mistreatment continued. The living conditions in the new room weren’t better, except that it had a window.

“From mid-October to mid-November we were taken for walks between two high walls. During those walks they forced us to fight with each other. They ordered me to fight Zijad Demirovic until one of us fell down or until we started bleeding,” Habibija said.

He said he was also abused with a prisoner named Rudolf Jozelic, who used to be a pilot. He said the two of them were forced to pretend they were airplanes and were shot at.

Responding to questions by the defense teams, Habibija said he didn’t know about prisoners being tortured with electrical shocks and also confirmed that he wasn’t taken to other locations to perform forced labour.

Habibija said he was released from the prison on December 4, 1993, when his relatives paid 20,000 Marks for his freedom.

Former prisoner Fahrudin Rizvanbegovic was the second state prosecution witness to testify at today’s hearing. He said he was initially held in the Dretelj detention camp, where defendant Ivica Kraljevic took his money and personal identification documents. He said he was transported to a detention facility in Ljubuski in September 1993. He said he was detained in an uninhabitable room and was abused by the guards.

Rizvanbegovic said he met Kraljevic again in Ljubuski. He said other guards in the facility told him he was the prison manager.

Rizvanbegovic said he encountered Vido Palemeta working as a guard at the Ljubuski facility, and said Palemeta had also stolen money from him in the Dretelj detention camp. He said he saw Palemeta threaten a prisoner named Alaga Festic with a knife in the Ljubuski detention facility.

Rizvanbegovic mentioned a guard named Milos, saying he’d never heard any bad stories about him. He said this guard’s son was a basketball player. Defendant Dragan Milos addressed Rizvanbegovic in the courtroom, and confirmed he was the same person.

Rizvanbegovic said he saw prisoner Rudolf Joselic being abused several times. He said on one occasion a prisoner named Meho Zilic, covered in bruises and beaten, told him that his minor son had been tortured with electric shocks. Rizvanbegovic said other prisoners were also beaten and humiliated.

Rizvanbegovic said he was released with the help of a Croat friend on December 10, 1993. He said he lost approximately 40 kilograms during his detention, and described his body as skeletal.

“I shall pray to God to forgive the criminals, but I can’t forgive them,” Rizvanbegovic said.

The trial will continue on January 14.
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