News 18 Jan 16

Bosnian Court ‘Under Pressure’ After Politician’s Arrest

Legal experts and victims’ groups claimed that political elites were trying to control the state judiciary after a leading political party expressed anger about the arrest of one of its senior figures.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
The Bosnian state court in Sarajevo. Photo: BIRN.

Bosnian legal expert Vehid Sehic, a former judge, told BIRN that the state judiciary has been facing “continued pressures by political elites” after the prosecution came under fire last week over the arrest of a leading politician.

“They are in essence trying to put the judiciary under control – through trying to decide who is elected to be a judge and prosecutor, and also through media, through these statements,” Sehic said.

One of the country’s leading political parties, the Alliance for the Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SBBBiH, strongly criticised the prosecution last week after one of its members, Bakir Dautbasic, was arrested for allegedly interfering in a drug-trafficking and murder trial.

After the arrest ordered by the Bosnian prosecution and a custody remand agreed by the court, the SBBBiH called on the state judiciary not to “allow the closing of its credibility by upholding politically motivated charges”.

The SBBBiH, which is led by media tycoon Fahrudin Radoncic, went on to nominate Dautbasic for a ministerial position despite the fact that he was in custody.

The state court and prosecution responded on Friday by issuing a joint statement sharply condemning what they called “attempts to exert brute political pressure on the operation of the state-level judiciary”.

“The court and prosecutor’s office will not allow disgruntled individuals, using powerful media outlets, to bring into question impartiality of these institutions and prosecute all those who have, by their actions, clashed with the law. There can be and there will be no exceptions in that regard,” said the statement.

“It is completely inappropriate that political parties should exert pressure on the work of judicial institutions in such an overt manner and spearhead a media lynching of state prosecutors and judges,” it added.

Murat Tahirovic, president of the Victims and Witnesses of Genocide association, told BIRN that political pressures on the judiciary were not new and that the court and prosecution have been working for the past few months “in impossible conditions, with the threat of a referendum above their heads”.

“This referendum threat has been going on for months now and nobody seems to be dealing with it and this is why we have a situation in which it is very difficult for the judges and prosecutors to focus on professional work,” said Tahirovic.

Parliament in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska has called for a referendum questioning the authority of the state-level judiciary because it believes it is biased against Serbs, especially in war crimes cases.

In a separate statement last week, the Bosnian court also said that this year’s draft budget was insufficient for the work of the institution.

“If such a budget is adopted, the court of will not be able to meet the requests coming from the prosecutor’s office, which has been increasing the scope of its activities,” the court warned.

“The discrepancy between the number of judges and the number of prosecutors is so wide that we need to warn the public, that the Court will not be able to prosecute cases of terrorism, organised crime, corruption and war crimes,” it said.

In the past two years, more than 20 new prosecutors have joined the prosecutor’s office to work on war crimes and terrorism-related cases.

Sehic said however that although it was true that the Bosnian court has not been receiving the same level of support as the prosecution - and there was a need to level up the number of judges and prosecutors - more can be done “even with these capacities”.

“What we are seeing are victims waiting for justice and that is the biggest injustice of them all… If we see a more professional approach, then better results can be achieved,” he said.

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