Officials, lawyers ask for Oliver Ivanovic to be released
Serbian government officials and the legal representatives of Oliver Ivanovic urged on Wednesday his immediate release from detention.Source: Tanjug
Ivanovic is a political leader of Serbs in northern Kosovo and has been imprisoned for a year.
His trial is political as there is no evidence to support the indictment by the prosecution office, which charges him with war crimes, a news conference in Belgrade heard.
Head of the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said that there will be no rule of law or normalization of the social circumstances and relations in the province for as long as Ivanovic is not released.
He urged Ivanovic's immediate release as a humane gesture and a key step towards the rule of law, adding that all Serbian citizens and the Serbian government are backing the SDP leader, whose trial has just started after he had spent a year in detention.
"We must speak out against Ivanovic's incarceration and persecution because what has happened to him could be done to any citizen in Kosovo and Metohija and beyond," said Djuric, adding that even the attempt by the prosecution office to fabricate evidence has failed.
The Serbian government has offered guarantees for his release, Djuric said, adding that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has raised this issue in the UN Security Council.
In every meeting with anyone of relevance, the Serbian prime minister, the president and other officials mention this issue, Djuric said.
Serbian Minister of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs Aleksandar Vulin called on the relevant authorities in Kosovo to admit their mistake and release Ivanovic because, he said, the indictment against him is thin and there are no witnesses.
Admit the mistake and no one will seek political gain from this, Vulin said, calling for him to be freed or at least allowed to stand trial as a free man.
Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic said that he supports Ivanovic as a friend and that everyone in Serbia needs to speak out against the political trial that is underway.
"I believe that Ivanovic is innocent," Ljajic said, adding that two things are crucial: establishing the full truth about the case and other events in northern Kosovo and Metohija, and the expectation that Ivanovic should be released to stand trial as a free man.
Ljajic also said that Ivanovic never advocated ethnic or religious intolerance or violence and that many foreign diplomats considered him as one of the most moderate politicians in Serbia, as well as in the region.
Serbian government officials and lawyers expressed hope that the trial will be quick and efficient, adding that Ivanovic has no intention whatsoever of fleeing and hiding.
Ivanovic's legal representative Nebojsa Vlajic said that the reasons for the detention are absurd because Ivanovic has no wish to flee or influence witnesses, since all of them have already made their statements about the event, which took place 16 years ago.
"We expect that the trial will be fair, that the defence will be allowed to present evidence and question the witnesses, and that the trial will proceed without delays and be as brief as possible," Vlajic said.
Lawyers Zdenko Tomanovic and Toma Fila said that the prosecution office has created an illusion that there is legally acceptable evidence to raise an indictment against Ivanovic and detain him.
Fila said that the Pristina court is an even bigger caricature than the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and Tomanovic added that not even the ICTY has taken the liberty to consider as relevant evidence that is directly contrary to the rules of the international criminal law.
There is no evidence that Ivanovic was the leader, commander of member of any formation, and the fact that the court and the prosecution office are using something that should not be permitted anywhere in the world is a cause for concern, Tomanovic said.
It is clear that the indictment is based on false witness statements, Ivanovic's wife Milena Popovic-Ivanovic told reporters after the press conference, expressing hope that her husband will soon be allowed to stand trial as a free man.
"What has been keeping Oliver going throughout this time and giving him the strength to overcome this hell he has found himself in is, first of all, the support of his family, and, secondly, the support of the Serbian government", she said.
Ivanovic is charged with acting in his capacity as chief of the so-called Bridge Watchers group (who protected north Kosovska Mitrovica from intrusion by ethnic Albanian extremists from the southern part of the city) and ordering the murder of four ethnic Albanians in the southern part of Kosovska Mitrovica on April 14, 1999 (during the armed conflict in Kosovo and NATO bombing of Serbia).
The SDP leader is also charged with being responsible for the murder of ten ethnic Albanians in the northern part of the city during unrest on February 3, 2000, sparked off by an incident in which a bomb, thrown into a cafe in north Mitrovica, left 14 Serbs injured.
Ivanovic is facing a sentence of between five years and a lifetime in prison.
The trial started on December 18 last year, and currently underway is the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.