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The state court on Tuesday set March 10 as the date for the verdict in the trial of Gavrilo Stevic, who is accused of going to eastern Ukraine to fight in the conflict there – the first court judgment in such a case in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
State prosecutor Suada Pasic said in her closing statement that the evidence had proved that the defendant committed the crime and that witnesses had confirmed the allegations from the indictment.
Pasic said the evidence showed that in 2014, Stevic travelled to the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine, where he joined the Jovan Sevic paramilitary unit. She said the majority of fighters from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Ukraine belonged to the unit.
“The witnesses who were on that battlefront confirmed that Stevic participated,” the prosecutor said.
She said that officers from the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, who also appeared as witnesses, confirmed that during a police operation entitled ‘Crimea’, they collected findings about Stevic’s time in Ukraine and also said that the defendant maintained contacts with members of the Jovan Sevic unit.
Pasic asserted that the prosecution evidence was lawfully collected during a search of premises where the defendant lived.
Continuing her closing statement, the prosecutor said that expert witness Hamza Visca determined that in a photograph which was introduced as evidence, Stevic could be seen dressed in military uniform standing in front of a vehicle that could only be on the territory of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, although the photograph was probably not taken on a battlefront.
She said that witnesses Slavenko Kuzmanovic and Zivan Vuksanovic’s testimony about Stevic’s stay in Ukraine showed that he was a member of a paramilitary unit in the country, not a journalist, as he has claimed.
“Had Stevic been a journalist, wouldn’t he have held a pen instead of arms in the photograph? He would not have controlled checkpoints. It is undeniable that he went there in an organised manner and became a member of Jovan Sevic unit, in which he carried out military tasks. We propose that he be found guilty and sentenced in accordance with the law,” Pasic said.
Stevic is charged with having gone to the Lugansk region in 2014 via Belgrade and Moscow and joining the Jovan Sevic unit. According to the charges, Stevic was assigned with weapons and a uniform and performed various military tasks, such as patrolling at checkpoints, until the end of September 2014.
Meanwhile defence lawyer Veljko Civsa urged the court to acquit Stevic, arguing that the prosecution had not proved the allegations.
“I assert that the factual description of the crime is incomprehensible,” Civsa said.
In his closing statement, Civsa accused the prosecution of procedural omissions and the incorrect interpretation of facts, as well as raising questions about the way in which the premises where Stevic lived were searched.
Civsa said he considered the evidence taken from Stevic’s phone and mobile phone as having been obtained illegally, because the seized items were opened in the absence of the defendant.
As for the photographs that the prosecution introduced as evidence, Civsa said these were pictures and collages, not photographs with negatives. He said that as such, they could not be used as evidence in court, because it “cannot be determined when they were taken”.
He further pointed out that none of the witnesses identified the defendant in the photos.
Civsa said that prosecution expert witness Hamza Visca confirmed that it could not be determined whether the pictures introduced as evidence were taken in Russia or Ukraine, but he insisted that “they were certainly not taken on a battlefront”.
He said that SIPA investigators should not have testified about their findings because they were obtained through the questioning of other people suspected of having gone to fight abroad.
The defence lawyer sought to cast doubt on witness Slavenko Kuzmanovic, saying he admitted having been in Ukraine, and adding that the prosecution evidence included a photograph of medals awarded to Kuzmanovic.
He also said that that a decision had been made not to conduct an investigation into Kuzmanovic for fighting in Ukraine, and claimed that Kuzmanovic had previous convictions.
“No evidence has been determined beyond reasonable doubt,” Civsa said.
He described his client as “a spiritual man and a poet”.
Addressing the court, defendant Stevic said the indictment’s assessment of why he went to Ukraine was completely incorrect.
He admitted that “the prosecution is right when it claims I stayed in Ukraine”, but insisted he went there following a series of unsuccessful attempts to organise public actions in Banja Luka and Belgrade against the war in Ukraine.
“My departure was not motivated by joining a unit and fighting,” Stevic said.
He claimed that he went to Ukraine as a journalist, comparing himself to journalists Christiane Amanpour and Oriana Fallaci and author Ernest Hemingway.
“Kafka said that an artist has to be at the centre of things. I wanted to go there and see what was happening,” Stevic said.
He said that he had an arrangement with Republika Srpska news agency SRNA to publish his articles, but no pieces were published because he was not allowed to enter the separatist-controlled area of eastern Ukraine as a journalist.
“Only the propagandist journalists would get accreditation,” Stevic said.
He said that while he was there, he stayed in Lugansk and “other cities that were not affected by the war”, adding that at some stage he found himself “among 25,000 refugees”.
“It did not occur to me to join paramilitary formations. My mission was to spread peace – may all those who want war be cursed,” Stevic said.