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South Slavic: June 19, 2003

19 June 2003, Volume 5, Number 17


Part IV.

An interview on RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with prominent defense lawyer Rajko Danilovic by Branka Mihajlovic.

RFE/RL: Is the state of emergency only partially lifted? Some regulations are still in force, such as the right of the police to hold individuals for 60 days without their having access to an attorney.

Rajko Danilovic: You are right; it is only partially lifted, although little is said in the media about the matter.

During the state of emergency, the Serbian parliament tightened some regulations. The police obtained the right to hold anyone for 60 days without access to an attorney. If the special prosecutor decides that a case involves organized crime, the limit is 90 days. All of this is arbitrary and open to abuse....

RFE/RL: In the meantime, 54 new indictments have been produced. Do you have clients among those people?

Danilovic: For the time being, I have no clients from that group. It is not yet known who their attorneys will be, since some of those imprisoned have not yet been allowed to choose a lawyer, let alone consult one....

RFE/RL: The Serbian Bar Association has sharply criticized the law on suppressing organized crime and changes in the penal law, saying that they want competent legal institutions both in Serbia and abroad to decide whether the changes are constitutional.

Danilovic: That can always be done. I do not believe in the Bar Association's strength and ability to pull it off, but their point is sound.

Giving the police the authority to keep a suspect in custody for 60 days and denying him the right to contact his attorney or family goes far beyond international norms. The special prosecutor is even allowed to intervene and extend the custody for 30 more days, making it three months altogether. That goes beyond any norms.

Lawyers, as well as the broader public, consider it an attack on some basic civil rights. Even those suspected of serious crimes must have the right to defend themselves in court....

RFE/RL: In principle, what can someone get by admitting guilt?

Danilovic: It depends of what kind of a deal he makes with the prosecutor and judge. The police have nothing to do with it. He is treated just like any other person. He was accused and charges were brought against him, based on a reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime.

RFE/RL: Might he be acquitted?

Danilovic: It depends on the deal and what the defendant offers as part of it.

RFE/RL: According to Justice Minister Vladan Batic's recent announcement, the trials [in the Zoran Djindjic affair] will start next autumn. The building is being equipped with special devices, security cages, etc.

Danilovic: The government was given $4.9 million by a U.S. organization, whose name I forget. The authorities intend to spend that money, and their model is the Italian mafia trials....

The trials were announced for September, but this may be too soon since there may be some objections to specific charges. Everyone will also have to prepare their cases thoroughly.

RFE/RL: Are the criminals only temporarily out of the picture? Could they still strike back?

Danilovic: I do not believe they could strike back in an organized way. The political climate has changed [since their heyday], and the fight against organized crime is continuing....

It is really impressive to see how many of them were taken out of action. Under the state of emergency, 10,111 people were taken in for questioning and 2,599 were held in prison. Many of them were then indicted in one or more of 5,553 criminal cases....

But I think that there are some individuals who have been neither questioned nor tried. For me, the worst form of crime is state-sponsored terrorism. But it is hard to tell if the state has commissioned any political murders in order to eliminate its political opponents....

As long as the State Security Service and its files remain out of reach for the judiciary, many political murders cannot be cleared up and those the crimes will not be identified. That job remains to be done.