Supporters of Johan Tarculovski, the only Macedonian convicted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, are counting down the days to a judgment that could see him released early.
Tarculovski’s wife and defence lawyer have expressed optimism that there will be a judgment ordering his release soon, but the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, declined to say when a decision would be made.
“A final judgment on early release depends on the Tribunal’s president [Theodor Meron], once he considers the gravity of the crime, previous similar cases, the rehabilitation process of the convict and other relevant circumstances,” ICTY spokesperson Magdalena Spalinska told BIRN.
She explained that even if Tarculovski is granted early release, the judgment will only be announced publicly once he is actually set free from prison.
“That is the legal procedure, and is foremost for the security of the person because the Tribunal deals with heavy offences,” Spalinska said.
Tarculovski has already served eight years of his 12-year jail term. This month, after serving two-thirds of his sentence, he became formally eligible for early release.
In July 2008, the ICTY convicted former police officer Tarculovski of committing war crimes during the conflict between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in 2001.
He was found guilty of leading a police unit that killed ethnic Albanian civilians and committed other atrocities in the village of Ljuboten, near Skopje.
But the ICTY acquitted Tarculovski’s chief, the former Macedonian police minister Ljube Boskovski, who was charged with having command responsibility.
Hopes for Tarculovksi’s early release grew at the end of 2012 after the Hague court’s acquittals of ex-Kosovo Liberation Army leader Ramush Haradinaj and two wartime Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.
“We are still in suspense because there is no decision from The Hague. Johan is sad because he believed that today he would be released and will be able to see his children,” Tarculovski’s wife Sonja told local media on Friday.
Sonja Tarculovski, a local folk singer, last week sparked excitement over the possible freeing of her husband by releasing a single entitled Welcome Back.
Although Tarculovski was convicted of war crimes, some people in Macedonia see him as national hero, unjustly jailed for defending his country.
His supporters are preparing a big welcome-home celebration in Skopje if he is released from prison in Germany, where he has been serving his sentence.
The 2001 hostilities ended with the signing of a peace deal that year that granted greater rights to ethnic Albanians who make up about a quarter of the country’s population.