Issue 5, Article 1, 28 April 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

ZELJKO GRUJIC, conscientious objector and Christian believer, who was
serving a five-year sentence for refusing to bear arms during the 1999 NATO
attack on Yugoslavia, was released on 14 April 2000. The panel of judges of
the Supreme Military Court of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia commuted
his sentence from five years to one year which he had already served. Grujic
will return to his old job and plans to send Bibles to newly made friends still in
prison. He also hopes to organise fellow conscientious objectors in order to
lobby the government for a consistent alternative service option. The general
secretary of the Yugoslav Association for Religious Freedom told Keston they
had successfully petitioned for the release of two other men sentenced for their
religious beliefs and are investigating the cases of eight imprisoned Jehovah�s
Witnesses as well.

Friday 28 April 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

ZELJKO GRUJIC, conscientious objector and Christian believer, who was
serving a five-year sentence in Zabela prison (Pozarevac, Serbia) for refusing
to take arms because of his religious convictions during the 1999 NATO attack
on Yugoslavia, was released on 14 April 2000 (see KNS 18 February 2000).
The panel of judges of the Supreme Military Court of the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia ruled positively on behalf of a family request filed by his lawyer in
February of this year.

Grujic was arrested upon arriving at his military unit at the end of March 1999
and within weeks he was tried, sentenced and imprisoned for refusing to bear
arms. He had already served his term of compulsory military service and was
drafted from the reserve. The legal clause on alternative service was not
applicable to his situation: in Yugoslavia alternative service is available only to
those who are called up for their one-year compulsory military service. If they
request to be excused from bearing arms for reasons of conscience or religious
conviction, this is permitted, but they are obliged to serve for two years.
According to the law, however, this is not possible for those called to serve
from the reserve, in a state of war for instance.

In the latest ruling, Colonel SAVA MILADINOVIC wrote that because of his
family situation - his sister�s health and other factors - the request for an
extraordinary reduction of Grujic�s sentence was accepted, and his sentence
was changed from five years to one year in prison. Since Grujic had already
served 51 weeks at the time of the court ruling, the prison governor released
him a week earlier than a full year, in line with standard procedure in cases of
good behaviour.

For the time being, Grujic is resting with his family in the city of Smederevo,
50km southeast of Belgrade. �Even before I went to my unit last year, even
before the war started, I went to a local military command to see what could be
done about my request not to bear arms,� Grujic told Keston in a telephone
interview. �I realised that, since I was in the reserve and the political situation
was growing worse day by day, I might be drafted at any time. The lawyer in
the local command told me that the situation was of such nature that I should
speak directly to a commanding officer, once in a unit. If he were willing, the
commanding officer could give me a non-combat duty that required no arms. I
went to the captain, and he was willing to help me in this way. Unfortunately,
shortly after that, the NATO attack began and the government proclaimed a
state of war. Under those circumstances, my captain was not able to grant my
request, because the higher command ordered all to be armed. So I ended up in

�I believe that I have not spent a year of my life in vain. It was difficult in
prison and God protected me. I have learned something new in my life. I have
met new friends and I have experienced some good things, in spite all of the
circumstances. It was also significant that my friends outside prayed for me,�
Grujic said, and added: �Next week I will return to my old job in the
Smederevo port on Danube River, for I have not lost it - which is also a miracle
- and I will start to build up my life again. I remain in contact with some of the
people who are still in prison. I am sending them Bibles, since there is only one
Bible in prison. Also, I have an idea to bring together all former prisoners of
conscience and to try to appeal to the government to allow alternative service
in cases like ours. There are four other people that I know in my town alone.
Together we even may do something significant.�

�On our part we tried to help Zeljko Grujic as well as the other men in prison
for their religious convictions,� Dr ZDRAVKO SORDJAN, general secretary
of the Yugoslav Association for Religious Freedom and counsellor at the
Belgrade-based Institute for Political Studies, told Keston News Service. �In
February 2000 our association submitted an appeal to the Office of the
President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, to pardon ZALJKO SIMIC and
MARINKO RADUNOVIC, both from Smederevo, and both sentenced for their
religious beliefs. We were fortunate to have a letter from Grujic�s manager
stating that a job was still waiting for him and a petition asking for him to be
released signed by over three hundred people. The ruling says that they are
released (Radunovic was released in March after his sentence was reduced to
one year in prison) because of family reasons and we rejoice with them that
they are now free.�

�We believe that the release of these two men was a correct decision by the
people involved. We are expecting that other cases will soon be resolved in a
similar fashion. From the humanitarian and humane point of view we consider
these five-year prison sentences to be draconian. Basically, forcing these men
into prison resolves nothing, but creates more social problems,� Dr Sordjan

When asked about other cases of conscientious objectors that the Association
was aware of, Dr Sordjan commented: �We have received a document from the
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights with a list of eleven prisoners in Zabela
prison alone, all members of the Jehovah�s Witness Community, and we
contacted the Jehovah�s Witness centre in Belgrade asking them to confirm the
list, which they did. To my knowledge, three people from that list have already
been released after a year in prison - their sentence was reduced to one year.
There are eight of them still in prison, but for some of them a court review is
still in progress. Seven of them were sentenced to five years and one to six
years in prison. Since all of them were arrested and put in prison for not
accepting arms after the mobilisation was proclaimed, and some of them have
already been released, we are expecting that the remaining eight people will be
free soon. However, our Association has unconfirmed information that there
are several objectors to bearing arms in the prison in Nis, 220 km south of
Belgrade. We are making plans to visit this site and find out the true situation,�
Dr Sordjan concluded. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.