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The appeals chamber of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals on Monday dismissed an appeal filed by Serbia against its decision not to allow two members of the Serbian Radical Party accused of contempt of court to stand trial in Belgrade rather than at the UN court in The Hague.
The court said that protection of witnesses was the decisive factor, so the case against Radical Party politicians Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta cannot be processed in Belgrade despite claims that the witness protection system in Serbia operates in accordance with international standards.
It noted that witnesses in the case have said they would be afraid for their security and the safety of their families if they testified in Serbia because the accused are colleagues of Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who they believe is an influential political figure in the country.
Jojic and Radeta are charged with contempt of the Hague court during Seselj’s trial. They are accused of threatening, blackmailing and bribing witnesses to either change their testimonies or to not testify at all.
Seselj was convicted of wartime crimes in April 2018 and sentenced to ten years in prison, but is not serving any jail time because of the years he spent in custody prior to sentencing. He is still an MP in the Serbian parliament.
The Serbian authorities have been locked in a dispute with the UN tribunal for several years over the arrest and extradition of the two Radical Party politicians.
The tribunal initially submitted a warrant ordering their arrest in January 2015.
But in May 2016, the war crimes chamber of Belgrade Higher Court ruled that there were no legal grounds for extraditing the Radicals because Serbia’s Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal obliged Belgrade to extradite people charged with war crimes, but not those charged with contempt of court.
In October 2016, the UN tribunal issued an international warrant for the arrest of Jojic and Radeta, saying that Serbia had refused several times to act on its order to arrest and extradite them.
The tribunal also reported Serbia to the UN Security Council several times for non-cooperation in the case.
But the Hague court then made the decision to allow the proceedings to be transferred to Serbia – but this decision was revoked after witnesses said they had concerns about their security. Serbia then appealed.
A third Radical Party member who was also accused in the case, Jovo Ostojic, died in 2017.