Court Hears of Teslic Prison Ordeal
The last prosecution witness in the trial of former Bosnian Serb police officials Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin this week described his imprisonment and mistreatment in a prison cell in the town of Teslic.
Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state.
They are charged with ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Their alleged crimes include persecution, extermination, murder, torture, inhumane acts and deportation as crimes against humanity, in addition to murder, torture and cruel treatment as violations of the laws or customs of war.
Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the then Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western Bosnia-Hercegovina, BiH, between April and December 1992, including Teslic.
Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.
The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb interior ministry, MUP, in April 1992 and was also a member of the Bosnian Serb government.
The witness, identified as ST-008, gave his testimony with measures of face and voice distortion.
He said that he had been arrested in early June 1992 and taken to the police station in Teslic, where he had found a large number of imprisoned civilians.
ST-008 said that the policemen who took him away from home did not tell him why he had been arrested.
“They never said why or what for, they just took me away,” he said. “When I told them I need my crutches, they said, ‘where you're going, you won't need them.’”
Asked by prosecutor Alexis Demirdjian what happened when they reached the police station, the witness answered, “I was suddenly asked to leave the car and I said I couldn't leave, I was sitting in the back and had a hard time getting up and leaving the car, I had to take my legs out slowly, one by one.”
The witness said that after he had left the car, the policeman ordered him to climb the stairs to the police station.
“I said I can't, I don't have my crutches, I don't have anything, and he then said, ‘get in quickly’, where I answered ‘I can't, you can kill me without my crutches’, and he started cursing my mother, and I told him, ‘kill me, I can't.’”
ST-008 said that after a policeman helped him climb up the stairs to the police station, he met a market inspector from Teslic, a Bosnian Muslim named Asir Popic, who was standing facing the wall, with his legs spread apart, with his hand raised in the traditional Serbian three-fingered salute.
The witness said that he was later ordered to go to another building, to a police prison cell where he "found four or five people who were already there".
Inside the “three metres by four metres” room, the police would "come, bring people, and take people away,” he said, adding that the prisoners were subjected to beatings.
“There was shouting, screaming, and so on, it was horrible, I was hoping that nobody ever goes through something like that ever again,” ST-008 said.
“You said you saw four to five people in the cell. Did that number change?” the prosecutor asked.
"Every day, every hour, every five to ten minutes, people were coming and being taken away, we were 40-50 in the room and we couldn't even sit down, we were forced to stand as there were 40 or 50 of us inside that small room,” the witness said. “We were standing like statues.”
In addition, “the whole room was stinking of ammonia from urine”, he continued.
“Because there was no place to stand in the room so we had to even stand in the adjacent toilet, it was stinking of urine and faeces, our eyes were full of tears, so we had to shout to be either left out or to allowed to get to air.”
As he was disabled, the witness said he had to lie down on the floor while the other prisoners stood on him.
“I lay down because I couldn't stand it anymore, and people would step on me, there was no place to sit, let alone sleep,” he said.
They were only given something to eat after a few days, he said.
“It was Bajram (a Muslim holiday) and we were given a sandwich and some water just to wet our lips,” he said, explaining that 50 people were given a 10 litre canister to share. “And that was nothing given how many we were.”
The witness said that they were forced to sing Serb songs every time one of the policemen or paramilitaries would come in.
ST-008 later explained that after 12 days, they were ordered to board a bus.
“We had no idea where we were being taken to, we were shaking with fear when we were put on the bus, we were wondering what would happen to us,” he said.
“It wasn't a long ride, some 15-20 minutes, and we reached the Territorial Defence (TO) hangar, which was previously a TO command centre. While we were sitting in the bus, we were not allowed to raise our heads or look outside the windows, all of us had to put our heads down.
“We were ordered to leave the bus and stand in line in front of the hangar. We entered one by one, I saw that the TO hangar was full of cars, military and civilian cars.
“We had to go through the corridor and then into the hall, there was police standing on the left and right.”
The witness said the officers held clubs in their hands and were hitting people at random.
People in police and military uniforms, he continued, would keep on bringing groups of four or five people to the hangar.
“They'd be brought and thrown in, so that ultimately we ended up being 200-250 people in total,” he said.
“What was the nationality of the people in the hangar?” Demirdjian asked.
“Only Bosniak Muslims and Croats, there wasn’t a single Serb with us, and there was no reason for a Serb to be there in the first place,” the witness replied.
People in police and military uniforms would come from outside and beat the people at the hangar, the witness said, adding, "They would beat us without any order, simply picking people for beating, until they got tired."
The witness stated that he spent a total of 50 days as a prisoner. Asked what happened to his property in Teslic, he said that Serb refugees were allowed to move into his home, and that he was barred from returning to it “and not even allowed to take my orthopedic shoes, let alone a wheelchair”.
Stanisic surrendered in March 2005, while Zupljanin was arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 10, 2008, after 13 years as a fugitive. Their indictments were joined together in September 2008 and both have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The trial began in September 2009.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.