A number of trials were held in September, October, and November 1998 for accused terrorists, all of whom accused of violating Articles 125 and/or 136 of the Serbian penal code.50 According to the Ministry of Justice, eight judges were sent from other parts of Serbia to deal with the heavy case load in November and December.51 The evidence provided by lawyers and former prisoners, as well as experience from the past, strongly suggests that these trials were not fair. First and foremost is the ongoing problem of abuse in detention to extract a confession. Numerous violations of due process follow, such as restricted access to a lawyer, restricted access to the case material, and biased judges, who prohibit the defense from presenting evidence or witnesses on their behalf. Rarely, if ever, do judges accept complaints of abuse in detention. There are some cases, however, where the defendants were acquitted, but not only after spending as much as three months in pre-trial detention, during which time many of them were beaten.
The Students From Prizren
On May 23, eight students from the Pedagogical High School Xhevdet Doda in Prizren and one student from the University of Pritina, all of them members of the Students Independent Union, were arrested in Prizren. On June 8, they were charged with KLA membership and committing terrorist acts. On August 24, they were convicted of enemy activity against the state and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to seven and a half years.
The charges leveled against the students were in connection with their having organized a first aid course in Prizren at the local high school. The course, which began on May 19, ran for only four days before they were arrested. Four of the students were also charged with having contacted the KLA, a charge that the students admitted. According to them, they had contacted the KLA out of curiosity, but had never joined the group or cooperated with it in any way.
The lawyer for three of the students, Hazër Susuri, told Human Rights Watch that his two male clients, Bylbyl Duraku and Sejdi Bullanica, were both beaten in pre-trial detention, although his female client, Behare Tafallari, was not abused. He said:
They had dark ears, which is typical for electric shock that you get in the state security. This part of the nose [the nostrils] was also dark. Their hands were swollen. There were bruises on their bodies. I asked them to show me. My first question was did they torture you? And they showed me. They said that no part of the bodies was left untouched.52
Mr. Susuri asked for the prison to provide a doctors examination to document the abuse, but his request was refused. The court also rejected his argument that his clients had confessed due to torture.
The trial was postponed three times. When it finally took place, on August 24, the entire proceedings for all nine students lasted four and a half hours, according to Mr. Susuri and an observer from an international organization that monitored the trial. All nine students were found guilty only on the basis of their own confessions, without any supporting evidence provided by the prosecution. Mr. Susuri was not allowed to present fellow students as witnesses on behalf of the defense. The students sentences were as follows:
Nijazi Kryeziu (21) seven and a half years in prison
Aqif Iljazi (21) six and a half years in prison
Bylbyl Duraku (22) five and a half years in prison
Sejdi Bellanica (23) three and a half years in prison
Defrim Rifaj (22) two and a half years in prison
Behare Tafallari (22) two years in prison
Jehona Krasniqi (22) two years in prison
Leonora Morina (21) two years in prison
Sherif Iljazi (20) one year in prison
On November 12, the three female students, Jehona, Lenora, and Behare, were released from prison.
On October 1, Human Rights Watch monitored the trial of Ahmet Gjonovci, a lawyer from Pritina, who was accused of terrorism under Article 125 of the Serbian penal code.53 He was acquitted, but spent three months in prison and, according to his lawyer, was beaten.
Gjonovci was arrested on June 5 at a police checkpoint at Orlovic. According to his lawyer, Fazli Balaj, Gjonovci was returning from the town of Obilic, where he had picked up a suitcase for a friend.54 The police stoppedGjonovcis car, opened the suitcase, and found: four vests, one pair of sport pants, three t-shirts, two pairs of sports shoes, three pairs of regular shoes, four pairs of house slippers, and three wrist watches. The police arrested him at once and sent him to the state security building in Pritina.
Gjonovci stayed four days in the state security building and was beaten on the third day. The police claimed that he had been transporting bullet-proof vests and other military equipment for the KLA.
After four days, Gjonovci was taken to the Pritina investigative judge Danica Marinkovic, who accused Gjonovci of having transported military equipment and of having taken three doctors to the village of Likovac in Drenica to treat KLA fighters. Gjonovci admitted to having brought three doctors to Likovac, which is near his home village of Makermale, but claimed that he brought them there to treat the internally displaced and other needy villagers. Marinkovic ordered him to pre-trial detention for thirty days, which was later extended by another sixty days.
The first trial hearing, on September 25, lasted two hours and was postponed until October 1; Human Rights Watch attended. At the hearing, Gjonovci appeared in good health. The judge, Dragolub Zdravkovic, presented some of the evidence to the court: three wrist watches and four vests the Gjonovci was allegedly transporting for the KLA. The cotton vests were beige and multi-pocketed, similar to the vests worn by journalists or fishermen. Human Rights Watch did not see any indication that these vests had a specific military function. The trial proceeded normally and, after one hour, Gjonovci was acquitted.
Destan Rukiqi, a lawyer in Pritina who has defended dozens of ethnic Albanian political prisoners in Kosovo in recent years, was arrested on July 23, 1998, and sentenced that same day in an expedited proceeding to the maximum sixty days in prison for disturbing public order. Rukiqi was beaten on his third day in detention and suffered severe damage to his kidneys.
The arrest was related to an incident on the morning of July 23, when Rukiqi got into an argument with the investigative judge in Pritina, Danica Marinkovic.55 According to Rukiqi, Marinkovic had prohibited him from viewing the file of his client, Cen Dugolli, for two days. On the third day, July 23, Rukiqi was allowed to see Dugollis file, but was forbidden to take notes. When Rukiqi took notes nonetheless, Marinkovic snatched the file from his hands, and an argument ensued. According to Rukiqi, he stormed out saying, I am in the court but you are acting like the police.56
That afternoon, around 12:30 p.m., a plainclothes policeman came to Rukiqis law office in central Pritina while Sylvan Roy, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Fazli Balaj, a lawyer, were visiting.57 The police said that they had to speak with Rukiqi about that mornings incident with Judge Marinkovic; Rukiqi went peacefully, thinking that the discussion would not last long. He was taken to the Pritina police station and immediately charged with offending a judge - a violation of Article 6, paragraph 3 of the Serbian Law on Public Order.
Rukiqi was allowed to summon two lawyers, Fazli Balaj and Bajram Kelmendi, who arrived at the courthouse shortly after 3:00 p.m.. In an expedited procedure that lasted one hour, Rukiqi was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the maximum sixty days in prison by the presiding judge, Judge Saranovic.
Rukiqi was immediately taken to Lipljan prison where he was placed in solitary confinement in a cell two meters by one meter. For three days he was ordered to clean the prison hallways with a brush. On the third day, July 26, he was summoned by a prison guard to the room where lawyers visit their clients. Rukiqi told Human Rights Watch what happened next:
I had been there before to visit clients. It was no coincidence that they took me there. There was another guard there. They asked me why I had spoken about politics and the KLA, and they called me a sympathizer with Albanian terrorists. I said it is not true and asked them to bring me the person who accused me of those things. They said that was not necessary because this was not a court.
That is when they started to hit me with long rubber batons that are specially made for this - about one meter long. They hit me on the hands and on my feet, both of them. Then they laid me down on the ground and hit me on the feet. One of them on each foot. Then they put me with my hands against the wall and they hit me on the kidneys. I passed out after about half an hour. I heard them say, So, will you defend terrorists again? Will you have sympathy for Albanian terrorists?58
According to Rukiqi, he was not provided with a doctor for two days, despite intense pain and repeated requests. Two days later, on July 30, he was transferred to the hospital in Pritina, close to slipping into a coma. No visitors were allowed, including Rukiqis wife, who works as a doctor in the hospital. On July 31, Rukiqi underwent dialysis for the first of eleven times over the next two weeks. On August 6, he was transferred to the prison hospital in Belgrade, where he said he was treated correctly. On August 9, his wife was first allowed to visit. On August 20, Rukiqis sentence was reduced by the Supreme Court of Serbia to thirty days, and he was released two days later.
Human Rights Watch visited Rukiqi in Pritina on September 18. He was recovering, but was still not allowed out of his apartment by his doctor. As of December 1, no one connected with his beating had been held accountable.
Before the beating, Rukiqi had been involved in a number of human rights related cases, and he had provided information on war crimes committed by Serbian special police forces in Kosovo to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.50 Trials were held in the five court districts of Kosovo: Prizren, Pec, Pritina, Mitrovica, and Gnjilane. 51 NT Plus, September 18, 1998. The judges are Goran Petronijevic, Rade Micunovic, Pavle Vukainovic, Branislav Blazic, Nebojsa Zivkovic, Zivota Dojncevic, Jovana Krstica, and Dragoljuba Stankovica.
52 Human Rights Watch interview with Hazër Susuri, Prizren, September 21, 1998.
53 Republika Srbija, AP Kosovo I Metohija, Okruzno Javno Tuzilatvo, KT br. 118/98, Pritina, July 6, 1998.
54 Human Rights Watch interview with Fazli Balaj, October 1, 1998.
55 Judge Marinkovic has presided over a number of political trials against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in which the defendants were tortured. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Persecution Persists: Human Rights Violations in Kosovo, December 1996, p. 22.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with Destan Rukiqi, September 18, 1998.
57 Sylvan Roy and Fazli Balaj independently confirmed for Human Rights Watch Rukiqis version of the event.
58 Human Rights Watch interview with Destan Rukiqi, September 18, 1998.