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After months spent in custody and years spent on trial, some indictees were however pronounced not guilty of war crimes. They are trying to live a “normal” life again, but say that the trial took a part of their life and that it cannot be forgotten.
Under the second instance verdicts, Osman Brkan, Stipe Zulj and Srpko Pustivuk were acquitted of charges for crimes committed in Blace near Konjic, Kupres and Ilijas.
They say they that they were feeling very uncomfortable when they learned about the investigation, and afterwards when they were indicted. As they say, first of all, they have to explain what happened to their family, and especially to the children.
“When I was indicted, it was very difficult for the family to accept it. My son lost a year at school and my daughter began to falter and urinate in her clothes,” says Zulj, noting that it was especially difficult for him because he worked in the police and he was in custody with indictees charged over drugs as well as with other criminals and thieves.
In addition to family relations, they say that they have problems with poor health and finances because they usually lost their jobs when they are indicted.
Psychologists believe that leaving proceedings if you are not guilty automatically gives you the strength to realise that you won for yourself and that justice is on your side.
The applicable law provides compensation for released persons who were held in custody. If they were not in custody, however, they do not have the possibility of claiming damages from the state.
Experts believe that judicial process itself is stressful for all parties, and therefore for the indictees, too. Beside the victims, they say that indictees may also experience trauma, and that can reflect on their immediate surroundings.
“I worked in the police, and some colleagues were called upon to make statements about me. They asked me what was going on. The neighbours also told me that they were questioned about me. That’s how I learned about the investigation. I felt uncomfortable”, said Pustivuk.
According to him, one colleague advised witnesses what to say in order to accuse him.
“I realised that all of that was a big stitch-up, and that eventually turned out to be true”, said Pustivuk.
Zulj says that it was hard for him when he heard that he had been indicted. As he says, some hundred people were giving him support, but that there were some enemies, too.
Brkan, who lives in the village of Gusca near Konjic, says that some neighbours were glad because he was indicted, but that some were feeling awful.
“For one year I was walking for no reason, and I am not guilty”, said Brkan.
Psychologist Ismet Dizdarevic said that the indictees usually found calm within their families.
“Whether someone is guilty or not, within his family and friends he is not guilty. It is probable that in these families he will not be convicted. And if they are really guilty, their families automatically accept them so they perceive the satisfaction”, says Dizdarevic.
“That left a major trauma on my children. It is difficult to prove that you did not do anything for which you are indicted. Later, my kids told me: ‘Dad, we did not believe that it was you’. Some media outlets wrote that I killed… That are not at all nice things”, said Pustivuk.
Lawyer Slavko Asceric said that sometimes he felt like a doctor or psychologist while working with clients who have been indicted for war crimes.
“Some have suffered great trauma. For five or six years they have been characterised as criminals, and no one considers the fact that they have been released to freedom”, said Asceric, pointing out that some of his clients have divorced from their spouses.
After they are indicted of war crimes, they usually lost their jobs.
“I worked as a police officer and when I was arrested, and I was suspended. I had to pay the loan and we lived out of 200 marks. Help was collected for my family. I would not be able to pay for everything…”, says Zulj.
Brkan says that both he and his wife were unemployed. In order to come to the trial, he said that he borrowed money.
Pustivuk says that during the trial, his family lived from his pension, and that his mother-in-law cleaned and cooked and that’s how they were surviving.
“I could not find the job. People openly told me: ‘We are afraid, you are indicted and we will have problems’”, recalled Pustivuk.
Fight for yourself
Dizdarevic says that for anyone who is accused of anything it is not pleasant, but it is interesting that society also reacts badly to the assessment of the court.
“When it became clear that this person is really innocent and that he was indicted wrongly, there is a huge possibility that the closer and wider environment would be delighted”, said Dizdarevic.
Zulj, Brkan and Pustivuk were also delighted when they were released to freedom.
“I feel bad only because the Prosecution does not prosecute the real perpetrators. We were all glad when I was released to freedom. Neighbours say that they did not believe that the court would do the right thing”, says Brkan.
Dizdarevic says that if you go out from the trial as not guilty, that automatically gives you the strength to realise that you won for yourself and that justice is on your side. If a person who is released to freedom continues to suffer, Dizdarevic says that something is wrong with the relationship of that person in relation to the decision of the court.
“Those who have come out as free men are often overjoyed because they proved with their mind and strength that they are not guilty”, concludes Dizdarevic.
Comparing with the victims, he believes that there are no major psychological consequences for the indictees if they are released to freedom.
While trying to live “normal lives”, people who are released to freedom are seeking compensation from the government for their stay in custody.
“I file a suit, and for a year-and-a-half I am waiting for compensation from the state. Justice is slow. They should pay me 50 marks for each day I spent in custody”, says Pustivuk, who was in custody for a year-and-a-half.
Zul is also waiting for compensation because he was in custody for a year-and-a-half.
Nevertheless, Pustivuk thinks that his life will never be the same again, but he is grateful that his family is still together. Brkan hopes for better health and an easier life, while Zulj says that thanks to his faith, normality is slowly returning to his personal life and that of his family.