URGENT Three Found Guilty in Yugoslav Trial; Attorneys Hail Mild Sentences
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Three Yugoslavian dissidents were convicted today of spreading propaganda hostile to the communist regime, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years.
However, defense attorneys said the sentences were a victory for free speech, since their clients could have been given 10-year prison terms.
″Regardless of these sentences, the verdict represents a significant victory for the defense and for democracy in general,″ defense attorney Slobodan Perovic said in a prepared statement. ″Only 10 years ago, the sentences would have been three times as severe.″
The verdict handed down by presiding Judge Zoran Stojkovic found the three guilty of falsely depicting the Yugoslav system and insulting the country’s leaders, including the late President Josip Broz Tito.
Miodrag Milic, 55, was sentenced to two years in prison. Milan Nikolic, 37, drew an 18-month term and Dragomir Olujic got one year.
One of the pieces of prosecution evidence used against Nikolic was a master’s thesis on Yugoslavia’s problems that he wrote while a student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The thesis was not published in Yugoslavia.
The five-man panel of judges said prior time spent in jail, about two months for each man, would be counted as time served.
The trial, which lasted for three months, attracted attention abroad because Yugoslavia has long been regarded as the most liberal communist state.
The defendants claimed the trial was an attempt by authorities to stifle freedom of expression and end discussion of the Yugoslavia’s economic and social problems.
Six men were originally brought to trial Nov. 5. The prosecution on Jan. 23 withdrew charges against Pavlusko Imsirovic and reduced the charges against Milic, Olujic and Nikolic.
Two remaining defendants, Vladimir Mijanovic and Gordan Jovanovic, are to be tried separately on more severe charges of anti-state conspiracy, which carries five-to-15 year sentence upon conviction.
The defendants were arrested last spring after police broke up an informal discussion group of several hundred students, professors and intellectuals that met in private apartments for more than seven years.
The arrests were made after Milovan Djilas, former vice president of Yugoslavia, lectured the group on Yugoslavia’s ethnic and national problems.
In all, 28 people were arrested. Djilas was released after a day in jail.
Those arrested denied any wrongdoing. They said the discussions covered a wide range of scholarly topics and only occasionally touched on politics.