Are the 27 April 2017 events participants accused of coup or terrorism?
Prosecutor Vilma Ruskoska believes that none of the 33 defendants in the ongoing process in the Criminal Court are accused of terrorism pursuant to the article governing this crime (394-b), but of terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security pursuant to article 313 of the Criminal Code. This is not addressed publicly by the defendants’ lawyers, as if they are trying to choose the rhetorically less severe article under which their clients would eventually be liable. So, wherein lies the difference?
Author: Ljubomir Kostovski
The beginning of the trial of part of the group members that stormed the Parliament on 27 April 2017, attacked the MP’s present there, mostly members of the current parties in power, but also journalists and others, in order to prevent the constitution of the new Parliament, received high level of media coverage. After several court sessions, three in August on this case alone, numerous TV crews witnessed how the defense and the prosecution “made sparks fly” in the Court. Defendants’ lawyers and relatives, being on the defendants side as expected, claimed that the thirty three defendants are innocent, and above all, that they do not fall under the category of “terrorists”. This prompted the prosecutor in this case, Vilma Ruskovska, to make a lengthy statement for Sakam Da Kazam news portal, claiming that the defense is running away from the indictment, according to which the defendants have perpetrated wrongdoing under article 313 of the Criminal Code and steering the proceedings toward eventual application of the article 394-b alone, where terrorism is explicitly laid down in the heading.
In the past two days in the courtroom, we heard that these 33 defendants are terrorists. I react to this hysteria. None of the 33 defendants is accused of terrorism. That’s a completely different crime. There is solid evidence against these defendants for Terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security pursuant to article 313 of the Criminal Code. That’s laid down in Criminal Code’s chapter Crimes against the state. The colleagues lawyers ought to know and explain to the clients and their families that this crime is completely different from the crime Terrorism, article 394-b (chapter: Crimes against the public order) and covers completely different range of criminal and legal actions, Ruskovska said for the website.
The court trial for the orchestrated storming of the Parliament on 27 April 2017 that began on 22 August has turned into speculations whether the defendants are terrorists when no one of them is accused of terrorism, but of terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security (in colloquial language – accused of coup).
ONE ARTICLE ON COUP
By using irony, the attending relatives of the defendants call them terrorists, and a group of people protested that the defendants are being prosecuted on terrorism charges, while some of the lawyers in their opening statements criticized the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and the prosecutor Vilma Ruskovska for a rigged political case in which their clients are said to have taken part in terrorism.
In their opening statements, the lawyers remarked that prosecuting somebody for participating in a crowd, violence and attempted murder (previously) and all of a sudden filing an indictment stating that these 33 persons have perpetrated terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security, when it comes to the same event, is perilous and inadmissible.
Criminal law experts, whom we contacted, said it’s a bit unusual that our Criminal Code has two articles on terrorism after the last “reform”, while there was only one in the past. What is the difference between prosecuting a person pursuant to article 313 and 394-b? What is different in the description of committing the crime on 27. April, 2017 are there differences in the punishment and so on…
With regard to the first crime, the one described in article 313, it’s a matter of an attack on institutions hence it’s referred to as terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order – Margarita Caca Nikolovska, our long-standing Strasbourg Court judge and a prominent activist on legal matters, explains. – The second article falls under the chapter of endangerment of public order and peace. According to the that article, the public order has been endangered, which is also a common value, public good, and is definitely terrorism, but it doesn’t mean an attack on an institution as in the first case.
Caca Nikolovska says the defendants have been organized as a group, followed a scenario prepared beforehand and stormed the Parliament virtually in front of the eyes of the entire public in order to prevent the constitution of the Parliament, the most important institution for democracy to function (political parties’ positions representing different interests are confronted inside) and important for the formation of the government (the second actor in the parliamentary system). All of that after the Parliament’s Speaker was elected, an election that was formally completed, which, according to the raid organizers, shouldn’t have happened at any cost!
In her opinion, those who stormed the Parliament had a task of endangering the lives of the attendees there, first and foremost of the politicians of certain parties, and also to decapitate those parties, dismay the public through the images disseminated outside the building and then cause an intervention in the form of urgent measures (in layman’s terms – organize a coup) that would put the Parliament in some sort of a non-constituted phase.
Article 313 of the Criminal Code reads:
A person who, with the intention of endangering the constitutional system or the security of the Republic of Macedonia, causes or seriously threatens to cause an explosion, fire, flood, or some other generally dangerous act or act of violence, creating a sense of insecurity or fear among the citizens, shall be punished with imprisonment of at least ten years.
It’s clear that the attack on the Parliament endangered the lives of some MPs, part of Parliament’s security personnel and of journalists, managed for a brief moment to portray a situation that the system is falling apart and that higher level unrests are likely to occur, after which the head of the state would’ve probably suppressed them by deploying large police and military units on the streets.
So, on the first day, in her opening statement, Ruskovska explained that the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime has filed an indictment against the persons it has solid evidence for terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security. When asked who plays the central role in the orchestrated raid of the Parliament, she answered that each group: attackers, members of the Ministry of Interior, MPs and organizers, had their own central figure.
ANOTHER ARTICLE ON TERRORISM
Severity of punishments for crimes committed under the two articles on terrorism is the same, article 394-b states the possibility of life imprisonment, but basically the punishments are almost identical. Punishments as a motive in the defense are not important at all, but it’s a fact that the articles consisting them treat terrorism from different perspectives.
Article 394-b of the Criminal Code states:
Any person who commits one or more crimes of murder, corporal injuries, abduction, destruction of public facilities, transportation systems, infrastructure facilities, computer systems and other facilities of general use, hijacking of airplanes or other means of public transportation, production, possession, transportation, trade, procurement or use of nuclear weapons, biological, chemical weapons and other types of weapons and hazardous materials, as well as research in the direction of development of biological and chemical weapons, release of dangerous radioactive, poisonous and other dangerous substances or causing fire or an explosion, destruction of facilities for water supply, energy supply or other basic natural sources, with the intention to endanger human life and body and to create feeling of insecurity or fear among citizens, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of at least ten years or life imprisonment.
Caca Nikolovska believes that the second crime, at least psychologically, brings the defendants closer to the possibility of being called “patriots” by some parts of the public. As if pleading spontaneity and provocation rather than a planned attack and there might also be some calculations for the second instance proceedings, when the Court of Appeals would eventually be less rigorous regarding the sentencing than the Basic Court if it follows the article 349-b.
As Caca Nikolovska puts it, demanding restatement of the indictment in terms of guilt under article 349-b instead of 313 is possible, but she sees no reason why, because the defendants took part in an event that occurred in the Parliament, which is highly important, is related to an overthrow of a constitutional order, has been organized and caused consequences. That is supposed to be easily provable according to the indictment.
As far as the court is concerned, experts deem it’s focused on the indictment and evidence that the stated crimes have been committed and it is not interested in the disagreements outside the courtroom. The same experts remark that the lawyers “have depleted” themselves during the opening statements, because, instead of doing a croquis of their defense, they have laid out some sort of a closing statement, which is bad, because it makes it easier for the Prosecutor’s Office to shape its tactics.
The trial goes on almost nonstop up to New Year’s Day, until when the case trials are scheduled.
Will we find out whether the defendants are putschists or terrorists by then?
This article was created within the framework of the Project to increase the accountability of the politicians and political parties Truthmeter implemented by Metamorphosis. The article is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an initiative that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe. The content is the responsibility of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, National Endowment for Democracy, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.