Friday 18 February 2000
ZELJKO GRUJIC IN PRISON FOR REFUSING TO TAKE ARMS

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Because of his religious convictions, ZELJKO GRUJIC, aged 34, Serbian by
nationality, from the city of Smederevo, is serving a five-year sentence in
Zabela prison in Pozarevac, Serbia, Yugoslavia. During the military conflict
with the NATO countries (24 March - 10 June 1999) the Yugoslav Army
drafted a significant number of reservists. Grujic, who did his regular
compulsory one-year army service in the Yugoslav People's Army (in the
former Yugoslavia) in 1986-87 in Bitolj, Macedonia, was one of them. He
received the mobilisation call, went to the barracks in Pozarevac on 21 April
1999, reported in properly and received a uniform, but refused to sign for it or
to take arms on the basis of his religious convictions. He was arrested three
days later. Since he was a drafted reserve soldier, at a time when the country
was in a state of war, Grujic was accused in accordance with Article 202 of the
Criminal Law of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which punishes refusal to
take and use arms in time of war.

The military prosecutor sent Grujic's papers to the Military Court of the
Kragujevac Corpus on 28 April 1999 and the court session began on 2 May.
Grujic was assigned a defence lawyer, a local man, appointed by the court. The
prosecutor had no difficulty in proving that Grujic had refused to bear arms
since Grujic did not deny it. According to the registrar of the court proceedings,
Grujic's defence was based on the religious teaching that 'all problems can be
solved in a peaceful way. The defendant specifically stated that he would not
be able to fire arms at another human being, and he therefore categorically
refuses to take up arms, even when faced with the possibility of a long prison
term.' The court papers are not specific as to what kind of religious teachings
Grujic was referring to, except to note that he claimed that he was a Christian
believer.

Considering that the defendant was deliberately refusing to bear arms, and that
he was also responsible for his actions, the court decided to sentence him to
five years in prison. The court took into consideration 'the motives with which
the act was done, since the defendant's naming of himself as a Christian and a
pacifist expresses, in the court's opinion, a negative attitude on the part of the
defendant toward military service and towards the defence of the country in
general.' The court considered that the five-year sentence was 'sufficient to
achieve both personal and general deterrence.' In addition, Grujic was
sentenced to pay all the court expenses, in the amount of three and a half times
his monthly salary. He was given three days to prepare and deliver his written
appeal to the higher and final instance. His lawyer also filed an appeal.

In his handwritten appeal to the Supreme Military Court, Grujic stated that 'the
court did not take into consideration my willingness to accept any job in the
army, and if needed, to learn to clear minefields, and even to give my life for
my comrades (for my faith teaches that). The only thing I cannot do is to
jeopardise lives of other human beings... I am a peaceful man. I am oriented to
a more humane life -- to help other people... My statement about a peaceful
solution to all problems should not be understood in the wrong way. I do not
think that we should surrender to the enemy, but it is better to negotiate for a
hundred years than to make war for one year... If we could use all the money
that has been used for military equipment in the world for the benefit of the
peoples, we would not have any hunger or thirst. We would have enough of
everything. Freedom, peace and prosperity for everyone... Please, take into
consideration that I did not plan to make trouble in my unit. I am not an enemy
of my people, I just ask to be given the opportunity to contribute to our defence
in my way.'

The Supreme Military Court ruled jointly on the appeals from Grujic and his
lawyer on 16 May 1999. They rejected them and confirmed the previous
sentence. In an explanatory note on the ruling the President of the Panel of
Judges, Colonel MILORAD VUKOSAV, stated that Yugoslavia does have a
facility for alternative service, but that this is only for the 'new army', for new
recruits. Article 296 of the Law on the Yugoslav Army (Zakon o Vojsci
Jugoslavije) states that an individual may choose alternative service because of
his religious convictions or other reasons of conscience. If he does so, the
length of service is 24 months instead of the regular 12 months. However,
Grujic was drafted from the reserve rather than being called to serve in the
regular army (which he did 13 years ago) and therefore the option did not apply
in his case. The Court concluded that 'the sentence of five years in prison is
appropriate to the social danger of the criminal act, and to the level of criminal
responsibility of the defendant... it is necessary in order to achieve the purpose
of the punishment regarding not only the defendant, but also other persons
inclined to do this or similar acts.'

Grujic's two trials took place within only three weeks, which could be
considered a very short period for a crime such as the one he was accused of.
He is now serving his sentence. Since he has not yet completed one third of the
total time in prison he is not allowed to receive visitors apart from his
immediate family. Keston News Service therefore wrote to him with some
questions.

'I am glad that my case will be publicised,' wrote Grujic in reply, 'not only
because of myself, but because of the others who are in a similar situation to
mine. I desire that my case will not be used for political purposes, and in that
way push into the background faith in Jesus Christ, which is the foremost
important issue here. Since 1994 I have been committed to Christianity and its
teachings, and the Gospel has had a critical influence on my life. I have never
believed that bearing arms might bring good to humanity. Our aims cannot
justify our means. What attracted me most was the message of the Bible that
God, our Creator, is not forcing this world to be good, better than now, but with
His endless patience and love He is changing it and renewing it. Before the
principalities (kingdoms of the earth) are changed, our hearts need be changed
too.'

'I never was and I never will be sorry for trusting in the Word of God. I would
do the same if the same situation occurred again. I do not feel guilty and I
believe that I am innocent as far as the act I am judged and convicted for is
concerned. There were seven others in my jail who were sentenced for similar
reasons. They all got five years' imprisonment. However, one of them was
released after six months, and two others after a year. Others are still waiting
and hoping for early release.'

'I have not had any major problems here in prison because of my faith. Some
people here are interested in spiritual matters, but mostly it is only a skin-deep
mixture of customs, tradition and superstition. Since October last year we have
been given a room we can use for religious services. It is opened every Sunday
and on major Orthodox religious festivals for a couple of hours, so that
believers can pray and express their feelings toward God and also practise their
Orthodox customs. Unfortunately, the priest does not come very often, so the
chapel is not fully active yet. Every Sunday I go there and I notice that some
others are regular attenders. We can have the Bible and some religious
literature, and we are allowed to make notes.'

Last year Grujic's sister TANJA wrote a letter to the President of Serbia, Milan
Milutinovic, asking for clemency. She received no answer. Grujic's lawyer sent
a similar letter but there was no response. Members of the Yugoslav
Association for Religious Freedom also wrote a letter to the President of Serbia
and to the President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, as well. Again, there
was no response.

Grujic is due to be released in April 2004. His sister�s address is:

Tanja Grujic (za Zeljka)
Veselina Maslese 1
26000 Smederevo
Serbia/Yugoslavia

(END)