Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts on the release of Ejupi

On 13 march the internationalized trial chamber of the Kosovo Supreme Court released Florim Ejupi. Just 9 months earlier he had been sentenced to 40 years prison for his role in the bombing of the Niš-Ekspress bus in 2001 that killed 12 Serbs. Amazingly - allthough many Serbs condemned the release - only the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade gave arguments for their condemnation. They argued that "It was more suitable, considering the gravity of the crime, for the Supreme Court to reverse the judgement and reopen the main hearing to directly adduce evidence, including the examination of witnesses, and thus prevent criticism and dissatisfaction of the victims’ families caused by the acquittal of a person who was previously sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment."

The argument for the release was a "lack of evidence". I suppose the court will later publish a more thorough verdict. The shortness of the publication leaves a bad taste. It gives the impression that the court ignores the severity of the case and the need of the public for clarity. One of the purposes of trials for ethnic crimes is to build inter-ethnic trust. With its attitude the court certainly does not contribute to that trust.

There is also the question whether there are other cases for which Ejupi could be prosecuted. In reaction to the release Serbian Interior minister Ivica Dačić said that "the Serbian police have information on Ejupi related to other crimes, as do their German counterparts, since some of those crimes were committed in Germany".

Having seen the indictment and the prior verdict I was left a bit puzzled. The case against Ejupi is based on two pieces of evidence: a fresh cigaret butt with his dna near the place from where the bomb was detonated and the testimony of "witness alpha" who had been with Ejupi in the prison of Mitrovica and Dubrava.

As I understand it the cigaret butt alone would be enough for condemning Ejupi for complicity. The butt was fresh, the place was remote and far from paths and it is very improbable that the bombers would have allowed an outsider close to them to witness their proceedings. Ejupi has no alibi or excuse. According to the verdict "The accused Florim Ejupi pleaded not guilty to all charges. He decided to defend himself in silence. He also refused to give a statement or answer questions during the investigation.". But that didn't stop his lawyers from making many points.

Witness alpha is more problematic. He had a few contradictions in his statement. The most important one concerns an article in a Serb newspaper that he says he saw first while in prison (and then discussed with Ejupi), but that was published 9 months before. I find the verdict in this respect very incoherent. The article in Blic the verdict refers to (of 9 june 2004) must have discussed the arrest of Ejupi at that time. It is hard to imagine Alpha to discuss that with Ejupi many months later as if it just happened.

Another incoherent part of the summary of Alpha's testimony in the verdict concerns his relation with Ejupi. At the beginning it is stated that "He testified that the first time he met Florim Ejupi was in 2004 in Mitrovica, near the park in the market. Then in the summer of 2005 they met again in Mitrovica Detention Center." Yet further in the report it appears that they took together part in the march 2004 riots and that Alpha gave testimony about that in which he gave incriminating evidence against Ejupi. It is rather crucial to know as much as possible about the relation between Ejupi and Alpha as it is one of the points of the defense their relation was not of a nature that one would have expected Ejupi to tell Alpha the details of his bus bombing exploits.

Other question marks arise about another point of the defense: the car battery. The person who triggered the bomb did so by connecting the wire to the poles or some kind of battery. However, due to the long distance (1200 meter) a normal car battery would not have been sufficiently strong. You would have needed either a special device or a car battery with some extra electronics. As the battery hasn't been found we don't know what was used. But the defense is using it against Alpha that he reports that a car battery was used. I found this a rather weak argument: unless both were in love with technology it is very unlikely that Ejupi would have bragged about the advanced electronics that was used. And it is rather peculiar that the defense knows about these kinds of things. It raises the question who thought up that argument: someone involved with the crime?

All together this summary of Alpha's testimony in the verdict left me with a bad taste. It is rather incoherent and the inconsistencies in his statements are elaborately discussed in the middle of the main story. I got the impression that the summary of the testimony had been deliberately written to undermine the credibility of the testimony - possibly by some lower court house employee with sympathies for Ejupi. For the verdict in june it didn't make a difference as the judges had heared the testimony themselves and judged its credibility from that. However, the higher court probably relied on those summaries and probably didn't look at a tape of the testimonies (if there was a tape).


Anonymous said...

You're right. There were problems with Alpha's evidence. But as you point out, Ejupi provided no justification to the presence of the cigarette butt in a highly remote location embedded in a tree stump only a few feet from the end of the command wire. Combined with Alpha's evidence, there is an irresistible inference that Ejupi was part of the group that executed the bombing.

Anonymous said...

When you receive the EULEX decision, will you post it here? I'm sure there is more we can discuss.

Wim Roffel said...

The best place to look is probably the HLC site. Please let me know if you find it before me.