SUN, 15 JAN 1995 18:27:27 GMTThe trial to Montenegro SDA leaders completed
Summary: The three-and-a-half month long trial to leaders of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) for Montenegro was recently completed with a verdict of the 21 accused persons to the total of 87 years of imprisonment. The prosecution did not succeed to prove the charges about preparations for secession of Sandzak, and thus confirmed the long ago stated assessment that this was a political process. The court has taken statements given by the defendants during investigation as evidence, although it had previously been verified that they had been exposed to unprecedented torture and maltreatment. One of the reasons for pronouncing such high penalties was the position of the accused in party hierarchy. Both in its preparations and in its course, as well as according to its epilogue, this process followed suit of a similar one which took place in Serbia, where activists of the same party in Novi Pazar were the accused. The greatest sin of the sentenced leaders of the Montenegrin SDA appears to be their speaking in favour of a special status for the Montenegrin part of Sandzak. Despite the fact that the regime in Podgorica silenced the SDA with this process, having resorted to forcible means, it is doubtful to what extent it managed to resolve the problem of the status of its Muslims.
Recently, after three months, a court trial was completed in Bijelo Polje. It was in fact a political process in which almost entire leadership of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) for Montenegro was tried. The epilogue: eighty seven years of jail for twenty one defendants. The best known was sentenced the most - Harun Hadzic, President of the SDA for Montenegro was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, and the least able one among then was sentendced the least - the disabled Ibrahim Cikic to two years in jail. Secretary of this party, Rasim Sahman, was sentenced to four and a half yars in jail, Rifat Veskovic, former deputy in Montenegrin Parliament to six years, and the others between three and five years in prison.
They are all guilty - among other, the President of the tribunal, judge Radosav Konotar, said - "of having prepared the crime of secessation of a part of the territory of FRY in the period from April 1991 until January 1994, and of creation of the independent state of Sandzak".
Judge Konotar explained the verdict by stressing that this crime was rarely judged, because once such a crime is committed, it is too late for the state to react, because war and chaos break out. According to the opinion of the judge, that is the reason why the legislator prescribed a sentence for preparation of the crime. In interpreting the verdict, the judge denied allegations that this was a directed political process. But, he expressed doubt about his own statement immediately afterwards by his decision to keep in custody only those who were sentenced to five and more years, and let the others go home.
Many did not expect such an epilogue of the trial, if for nothing else then for the sake of the belief that the sentence for the "rebellious Muslim group" in Montenegro in relation to the one pronounced against the activists of the same party in Novi Pazar (Serbia) would be more lenient at least to the extent Montenegrin regime appears more democratic in relation to the Serbian. It turned out, unfortunately, that the sceptics were right again: the total sentence in Bijelo Polje trial was not only as high as the one in Novi Pazar, it even exceeded it. There were three defendants less in Bijelo Polje, but the total sentence was seven years longer.
The main reason for such a repressive stance of the local authorities, appears to lie in the fact that leaders of an opposition party were on trial here. Words of the public attorney obviously showed this when he demanded of the court in his final speech to pass a sentence for the defendants in accordance with their positions in the party. In this way, the public prosecutor, in fact, denied himself in the best possible way, bcause he had stated at the beginning of his speech that "this is not a trial to a political party".
During the entire proceedings, the public prosecutor did his best to prove that the defendants intended to create "a dark Muslim state". As arguments for his allegation he cited songs which were sung at SDA gatherings, alleged connections of the accused with Sarajevo, Turkish authorties, Zagreb Muslim Cultural Center, and Islammic embassies in Belgrade. The arms found in possession of the accused and their statements made in the presence of the investigating judge, the prosecutor emphasized, were sufficient evidence to confirm the allegations stated in the charges.
On the other hand, the defendants and their lawyers based the defence on the attempt to present the whole process and the trial itself as a political process to "a nation, to a party, to an idea". They rejected allegations that they had intended to create the independent state of Sandzak, but stressed that they they had fought, but by political methods, for its cultural autonomy, that is, for a special status of the Muslims in Sandzak. As evidence, they stated that they had informed the highest state agencies in Montenegro and Serbia about their intentions.
Illegal possession of arms was not denied by the defendants, but it might be interesting to note that only nine out of the twenty one had such arms. They claimed that they had acquired arms out of fear for their families and themselves of various paramilitary units that marched across Sandzak in those days. Altogether the following arms were found with all the defendants: two machine-guns, nine "Kalashnikovs", two "wasps", one "Scorpion", two pistols and some economic explosives and ammunition, which was all presented as terrible armed force by skilfull directors of state television. "Even if all these men had had tanks, they would not have been able to threaten a state such as this" - as an illustration, the attorney of the defendants, Velija Muric, concluded at the trial.
Statements of the accused made in the presence of the investigating judge (the court adopted them as material evidence) - were rejected by the defence. Such confessions, the defence council claimed, had been forced out of the accused after "police treatment" which actually meant torture, according to all international conventions. Medical documentation was offered as evidence about it, and attorney Velimir Kljajevic offered himself as a witness, because he had seen what his client looked like after maltreatment and having been heavily beaten up. For instance, his defendant, Ibrahim Cikic, confessed in the presence of the investigating judge that he was the leader of a terrorist demolition group, although he is almost 100 per cent blind with one of his eyes, and distinguishes only light from darkness with the other. Like all the other defendants, he said at the trial that he had been heavily abused and had to admit and sign everything that the State Security Service men ordered him to do - in order to survive. He denied everything at court, but all the same, the court did not take this into consideration, and sentenced this disabled man (with a medical certificate) to two years of imprisonment.
Men sentenced in the Bjelo Polje porcess, let us be reminded, were heavily beaten up during the investigation, they were treated with electro-shocks, and some were even sexually abused. They all claimed that they were taken to Foca to special premises and maltreated there. Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic publicly promised at the time that proceedings would be instigated against the workers of the Ministry of the Interior who had exceeded authorizations. But, despite such promises of the President and the appeal of the attorneys of the defendants against the unknown perpetrators - so far nobody was taken responsible for it.
The sentence was pronounced, nevertheless. The only thing left for the defendants and their attorneys to do is to appeal to the Supreme Court of Montenegro, which will, according to some experiences acquired elsewhere, probably confirm the pronounced sentences. Or, it might insignificantly reduce them or increase them. After that, a weak hope remains - the Montenegrin President, Momir Bulatovic. If he wishes to do so, namely, he may abolish their sentence. But, this is hard to believe, because the whole process would not have happened at all, had he not given the signal.
After the sentence was pronounced, a bitter taste was left that after all, the trial was of a political nature, if for no other reason then for the fact that the arguments of the defence attorneys had been more convincing than the arguments of the prosecutor. Harun Hadzic right at the beginning of the trial made a statement which was verified by its epilogue: "This is a political trial, and politics is formally hidden behind the judiciary. The final sentence will certainly depend on political assessments of those who have staged the trial".
By the pronounced sentence, as well as by the entire trial, Montenegrin regime has, it seems, definitely removed the Party of Democratic Action from the political scene of Montenegro, because it spoke in favour of a special status for the Muslims in the Montenegrin part of Sandzak. The question remains, howver, whether the authorities, having chosen forcible instead of peaceful means to resolve this issue, acted against itself, and in favour of those, so far so few, who supported such stance of the SDA.
Seki RADONCIC (AIM Pogorica)