The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has acquitted Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj on all nine counts that UN prosecutors filed against him in his marathon trial.
Seselj was not present at court in The Hague for the hearing as Presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said on Thursday: “Following this verdict, Vojislav Seselj is now a free man.”
Seselj surrendered to the court in 2003 and awaited verdicts in his trial that was repeatedly delayed.
As a result, he had spent more than a decade in custody at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Seselj reportedly said he would seek 14 million euros in damages from the court in The Hague for his time spent there.
Tihomir Oreskovic, prime Minister of Croatia, angrily described the verdict as “shameful”.
“It’s a shame for the prosecution in The Hague. I am in Vukovar today, and we all know that this man has done evil things to this town. He showed no remorse whatsoever, before or now,” Oreskovic said.
Slavko Juric, a Croatian war veteran from Vukovar, also condemned the decision as a “disaster.
“I can’t comprehend what happened here. Acquittal? For all the crimes he and his followers committed here? His paramilitaries were raging through Croatia and Bosnia, killing civilians, raping women. It’s a disaster.”
Seselj was released in November 2014 for medical treatment in Serbia on condition that he did not interfere with victims or witnesses and that he would return to the tribunal if summoned. He was summoned back to the Hague court in the autumn of 2015 for trials.
UN prosecutors had demanded a 28-year prison sentence for Seselj, saying his hate speeches at rallies “planted the seeds of ethnic hatred and helped them grow into ethnic violence against non-Serbs”.
Seselj had been charged with war crimes, including planning the capture of towns in Croatia and Bosnia as part of a criminal plot involving other Serb leaders, such as former president Slobodan Milosevic, to drive out non-Serbs using “massive destruction and terror”.
He had also been charged with recruiting and arming the Serb paramilitaries blamed for atrocities in Bosnian and Croatia.
Seselj and his political party were backing Milosevic, who was accused of committing genocide in connection with conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.