Judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal voted on Wednesday to suspend the trial of ultranationalist Serb leader Vojislav Seselj after the prosecution said its case was being undermined by witness intimidation.
The decision plunged the case into legal limbo and court officials could not immediately say what would happen next. Prosecution spokeswoman Olga Kavran said prosecutors had asked for a suspension in January because they were concerned about "the integrity of the proceedings."
When prosecutors sought the suspension on Jan. 15, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said the application was made "because, allegedly, witnesses would be jeopardizing the integrity of this Tribunal because of pressure exerted on them," according to court transcripts.
On Wednesday, Antonetti read out only brief sections of the 2-1 majority ruling in court. He said one more prosecution witness would testify next week before the suspension.
Antonetti dissented from the other two judges and advised Seselj to appeal, saying he had been in custody in The Hague for nearly six years and prosecutors have only seven hours of testimony left. The full text of the decision was not immediately published. Seselj is leader of the right-wing Serbian Radical Party, Serbia's biggest opposition party. He has pleaded not guilty to using hate-laced speech to incite atrocities by Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia.
Wednesday's decision came after 71 prosecution witnesses had already been heard and with only a handful still to testify. Seselj has said in court he does not plan to call any defense witnesses because he believes the prosecution has failed to prove its case. He accused prosecutors of trying to railroad him to avoid losing the case.
"It is completely clear to me that this trial can never be ended naturally, legally, lawfully," Seselj said. "Because if it ended that way you would have to acquit me and judge that I should be paid compensation for all the years in this dungeon." Seselj's trial started in 2006 but was almost immediately suspended because he was on a hunger strike to back various demands. Among them was a demand he be allowed to defend himself, which the U.N. court eventually agreed to. The case eventually got under way a year later in November 2007.
Seselj faces charges of murder, persecution, inhumane treatment and wanton destruction of property, including religious buildings. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.
He is also facing a separate contempt case at the U.N. court for allegedly revealing the identity of a witness whose name was ordered suppressed by the tribunal.