State Responsible for Police Torture in Prijepolje in 1993
A First Instance Court in Belgrade has delivered a judgment requiring the Republic of Serbia to pay the sum of RSD360,000 (Serbian Dinars) to Sead Rovčanin, a Bosniak from the village of Gračanica, in the municipality of Prijepolje. The court found the state responsible for the torture inflicted on Mr. Rovčanin in October 1993 by members of the Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Interior (MOI). The Humanitarian Law Center believes that this judgment, should it become final, will bring only partial satisfaction to Mr. Rovčanin as he has waited 19 years for recognition of the injustice that he suffered and because the perpetrators have have yet to be punished and are still working as police officers.
The HLC filed a lawsuit for compensation for non-material damages on behalf of Sead Rovčanin, against the Republic of Serbia on July 30th, 2007. The judgment delivered at a retrial at the First Instance Court in Belgrade was that members of the Serbian MOI detained Sead Rovčanin at the police station in Prijepolje on October 27th, 1993, proceded to beat him and compelled him to sign a confession to a charge of possessing weapons. The torture he endured had long-term serious health consequences.
On a number of occasions between 1992 and 1995, members of the Serbian MOI searched Muslim-owned houses in Sandžak looking for unlawful weapons. According to information in the possession of the HLC and the Sandžak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, during this period, members of the Serbia MOI arrested at least 1,000 Muslims in the municipalities of Novi Pazar, Priepolje, and Tutin, on suspicion of possession of unlawful weapons. In most cases no such weapons were discovered. In a great number of cases, the Muslim householders were threatened in police stations and police officers would often torture them in order to compel them to admit that they possessed weapons. There were also cases in which police officers forced Muslims to buy weapons and then turn them in to the police. Police officers (wearing fatigues or civilian clothes) kicked, punched and beat the detained Muslims with batons all over their bodies and in particular on their feet. Following their release, some of the tortured men went to see doctors, but they were either refused treatment because the doctors feared revenge or the doctors’ reports noted that these men had sustained their injuries “in fights”.
Police searched the ‘Složna braća’ bar on October 27th, 1993 in the village of Gračanica and arrested Sead Rovčanin, his father Kadrija, and his uncles Abid and Salih Rovčanin and took them to the police station in Prijepolje. In the meantime, police officers searched Sead’s family house in the village of Gračanica, but found no weapons. Police officer Mileta Novaković interrogated Sead Rovčanin in the police station. Novaković treated him as if Novaković were his “Boss” and threatened him, saying that he needed to “speak up by tomorrow”. The following day, at about 6 o’clock in the morning, police officer Novaković took Rovčanin to another office where Inspectors Stanko Bezarević and Dušan Madžarević were waiting. Novaković asked Rovčanin to confess about the location of weapons and told him to turn them in to the police. Sead kept repeating that he had no weapons. During the interrogation, Novaković hit him in the stomach with a baton several times. Then he ordered him to take his shoes and socks off and kneel on a chair; Maričić started to hit him on the feet. They beat him on his feet for about half an hour. When they stopped, somebody brought a basin full of cold water and Rovčanin placed his feet in this water. Because he feared that the beating could continue, Rovčanin signed a statement that had been prepared and brought to him by Inspector Bezarević, in which he confessed that he possessed weapons . He was unable to stand on his feet for another half an hour. Two or three hours later, he was taken before the investigative judge at the Municipal Court in Prijepolje. The court convicted Rovčanin in December 1994 for the unauthorized purchase and possession of weapons, on the basis of the statement that he signed under coercion at the police station. The police officers who tortured him still work for the Serbian MOI, and inspector Stanko Bezarević is now the head of the department for the fight against general crime at the Police Directorate in Prijepolje.