Court acquits former Red Berets accused of armed mutiny

The Special Court in Belgrade has acquitted members of the Special Operations Unit (JSO) accused of carrying out armed mutiny in 2001.

Source: B92, Beta
JSO officers block a highway in November 2001 (screen capture, file)
JSO officers block a highway in November 2001 (screen capture, file)

Those found not guilty include former commander of the now disbanded JSO, Milorad "Legija" Ulemek - who was not in the courtroom today - and the unit's senior officer Zvezdan Jovanovic. Both men are currently serving 40 years in prison as the key conspirators in the 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

The court on Friday also acquitted Veselin Lecic, Dragisa Radic, Vladimir Potic, Dragoslav Krsmanovic, and Mica Petrakovic.

In their closing statements, the Prosecution for Organized Crime asked for all defendants to be found guilty and given prison sentences, while the defense sought acquittal, arguing that the event was a protest rather than armed mutiny.

The Prosecution's indictment stated that from November 9 until November 17, 2001, members of the JSO, also known as "the Red Berets," stopped taking orders and severed communication with the command, withdrew to the unit's center in Kula, and on several occasions rejected the demand, coming from the department chief, the interior minister, and PM Djindjic, to end the mutiny.

In addition, combat vehicles and armed JSO officers twice blocked the Novi Sad-Subotica highway on November 10, and once a highway running through Belgrade, two days later.

In this way, the unit "very clearly demonstrated its readiness to use violence unless their ultimatum to dismiss then Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, State Security chief Goran Petrovic, and his deputy, Zoran Mijatovic, were accepted," the indictment said.

Such action by the unit directly threatened the security and the constitutional order of the country, it added.

Trial Chamber Presiding Judge Dragomir Jerasimovic said today that the decision to acquit was made after a detailed examination of material evidence and witness testimonies, based on which the court concluded that the JSO had organized a protest, rather than mutiny.

Jerasimovic also referred to a transcript from a government session chaired by Djindjic, which concluded at the time that the security of the state was not threatened, while the word "protest" was used to describe the event.

To support the verdict, the judge also said that the government did not declare a state of emergency and that security services were not put on combat readiness. Jerasimovic said that the safety of citizens was not jeopardized, as evidenced by recorded video materials.

He further stated that the testimonies of senior members of a criminal gang known as the Surcin Clan were based on circumstantial evidence, describing the testimonies of Cedomir Jovanovic and Dusan Mihajlovic as "subsequent memories contradicting the evidence."

Jerasimovic also said the behavior of Turkey "in such a situation" - apparently a reference to the 2016 failed coup - further proved that the JSO did not organize armed mutiny.

"Such reaction was missing here," the judge said of Serbia.

The trial began in 2012 and the parties now have the right to appeal agianst the verdict before the Appellate Court.

The JSO mutiny is seen as an introduction into the assassination of Djindjic two years later. It ended after Djindjic agreed to compromise and dismissed Petrovic and Mijatovic, replacing them with Andrija Savic and Milorad Bracanovic - two figures close to Ulemek.

The formal reason for the JSO mutiny was the arrest of the Banovic brothers, who were indicted by the Hague Tribunal.


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