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Kosovo Supreme Court Clears Serb Ex-Minister of Inciting Hate

The Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Serb former minister in the Kosovo government, Ivan Todosijevic, clearing him of inciting hatred for denying that a massacre of Albanian civilians in January 1999 happened.

Kosovo’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it has overturned the verdict sentencing ex-minister Ivan Todosijevic to two years in prison for his comments about a January 1999 massacre of Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak/Recak, which he claimed was staged.

Todosijevic was cleared of inciting ethnic, racial or religious intolerance with his comments.

In its verdict, the Supreme Court said that it had to face the dilemma of whether Todosijevic’s comments represented free speech or a criminal act.

“Even though it remains clear that the suspect used inappropriate vocabulary in his speech and which does not reflect the opinion of a large part of the local population, the court faced the important issue of determining the definition of the boundary between free expression of opinion and criminal liability. This aspect had not been clarified and analysed sufficiently by lower-level judicial instances,” the Supreme Court verdict says.

“The court expresses its concerns over the standard used first by prosecution and then supported by two lower instance courts, which used a minimum standard to qualify the suspect’s actions as criminal without a thorough assessment and analysis,” it added.

In his comments three years ago, Todosijevic claimed that “the Albanian terrorists are the ones who made this [Racak/Recak massacre] all up and committed the biggest crimes in Kosovo”.

He made the statement at a ceremony in 2019 marking the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which was launched to stop Slobodan Milosevic’s military campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The Racak/Recak massacre, in which 45 Kosovo Albanians were murdered, was one of the incidents that sparked NATO’s intervention in the country.

As a result of his statement, Todosijevic was fired from his position as minister for administration and local government in the Kosovo government.

Todosijevic’s lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic was quoted by the Kossev news website on Wednesday as saying that his client had been completely exonerated.

Vlajic added that his client “did not advocate violence, nor hatred and anything like that”.

“The Supreme Court understood and recognised that,” he said.

Todosijevic previously told Pristina Basic Court that his statement was not anti-Albanian.

“I did not intend in any way to offend anyone, especially the [Kosovo] Albanian community,” he said.

He was initially convicted by Pristina Basic Court in December 2019 and the verdict was confirmed by the Court of Appeals in August 2021. But in December 2021, Kosovo’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial.

In March this year, Kosovo’s Court of Appeals upheld Todosijevic’s conviction, finding that Todosijevic’s comments “fully reflect intent” to express hatred.

It added that claiming that the Racak/Recak was a fabrication “is an insulting and contemptuous expression towards a community, but towards the victims who suffered in that incident”.

The court specifically condemned Todosijevic’s use of the phrase “Albanian terrorists”.

Todosijevic then challenged the verdict at the Supreme Court, resulting in his acquittal.

Source : Balkaninsight