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article imageHague judge takes over Serb witness tampering case

By AFP     May 14, 2019 in World

A UN judge on Tuesday took over a witness tampering case involving lawyers for radical Serb nationalist Vojislav Seselj, who was convicted of crimes against humanity, saying witnesses feared for their lives if the case goes to trial in Belgrade.

Their case has dragged on for more than four years, with Serbia refusing to arrest and extradite the defence lawyers Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta.

The pair was first charged in December 2014 with "having threatened, intimidated, offered bribes to, or otherwise interfered with two witnesses" in two cases involving Seselj.

After failed efforts to bring them to the Hague, in June 2018, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) referred their case to Serbia for its national courts to deal with.

But judge Liu Daqun on Tuesday revoked the referral, ordering Serbia to send the two lawyers to The Hague "without delay" and issuing fresh international arrest warrants for the pair.

"The witnesses are not willing to disclose their personal information to Serbian authorities for fear of their life," Daqun said in a written order.

The witnesses "unequivocally confirm their unwillingness to testify should the case proceed to trial in Serbia", which would "frustrate the proceedings", the judge added.

The two lawyers now serve as deputies in Seselj's far-right Serbian Radical Party in the national assembly in Belgrade.

Responding to the Hague's order, Radeta, 63, told AFP she would "not go there voluntarily".

"As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed," she said, adding she did not expect the government to comply with the order based on a national law that permits Serbia to deny some extradition requests.

The now-defunct International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) -- which the MICT has taken over from -- issued arrest warrants against Jojic and Radeta in January 2015 and the case has dragged on ever since.

In April 2018, UN judges sentenced Seselj to 10 years in prison over crimes against humanity, but he remained free because of the time he had already served in detention.

The Serb nationalist was convicted of instigating persecution, deportation and other inhuman acts over an anti-Croat speech delivered in the early 1990s as the region descended into civil war.

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