Without information, no reconciliation

UN war crimes court frees ex-official jailed for contempt

2 min 12Approximate reading time

A former key official from the UN Balkans war crimes court was freed Tuesday after spending five days for contempt in the same jail as notorious ex-leaders like Radovan Karadzic.

French national Florence Hartmann, who served for six years as the spokeswoman for the court's ex-prosecutor, confirmed to AFP that she had been released by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"I am extremely tired, completely exhausted, stunned," she said in a brief telephone interview after her release.

"I am really relieved to be out of prison, and ready to fight," she said, adding she just needed one night to recover from her ordeal.

After evading an international arrest warrant for several years, things came to a head on Thursday when Hartmann was ignominiously detained outside the ICTY in front of a crowd of international journalists and demonstrators.

A former journalist and Balkans correspondent for the French daily Le Monde, Hartmann had unexpectedly turned up at the tribunal in The Hague to attend the verdict in Karadzic's long-running trial on charges of genocide and war crimes in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Hartmann, 53, was grabbed by blue-shirted UN guards in front of the tribunal where she had worked as the spokeswoman for former prosecutor Carla Del Ponte between 2000-2006 as demonstrators tried to shield her.

Her lawyer Guenael Mettraux said she had been "completely shocked" by the dramatic arrest.

The ICTY said it was just exercising a warrant issued after Hartmann failed to pay a fine imposed by the court for revealing details of two confidential appeals chamber decisions in her book published in 2007.

In 2009, Hartmann was initially fined 7,000 euros ($7,800) for contempt for disclosing confidential information in her book "Paix et Chatiment" (Peace and Punishment).

Two years later in 2011, after Hartmann had not paid the fine, ICTY judges sentenced her to seven days in jail and asked French authorities to arrest her. The French foreign ministry refused.

The data, which emerged during the trial of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, allegedly implicated the Serbian state in the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

- 'Violent' arrest -

Mettraux said Hartmann had "been aware of the risk" involved in attending Karadzic's hearing, but she had wanted to lend her support to the victims groups who also travelled from abroad for the keenly-awaited judgement.

Over the weekend he filed a series of applications to the ICTY to "modify" the circumstances under which Hartmann was held, describing it as "suicide watch conditions." He had also called for her early release.

The ICTY confirmed that Hartmann had been granted early release due to having served two-thirds of her sentence.

But a court spokesman denied to AFP that Hartmann had been held in isolation, saying she had been segregated from the men, but was the only woman in the court's detention unit in the seaside district of Scheveningen.

Hartmann's arrest in front of international TV crews triggered an outpouring of support, and more than 4,600 people signed a petition denouncing what it called her "violent" arrest.

The European Federation of Journalists had also called for her release, with general secretary Ricardo Gutierrez saying it was the role of the ICTY "to pursue war criminals not to intimidate those acting in the interest of civil society."

Mettraux confirmed plans to file a complaint with Dutch police for assisting in the arrest.

ICTY war crimes judges Thursday sentenced Karadzic to 40 years in jail for his role in Bosnia's 1992-95 war that killed some 100,000 people and left 2.2 million others homeless.

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