A judge ruled there is no evidence to connect the prime suspect to the 2008 fire at the US Embassy in Belgrade.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 24/09/12
Protesters throw torches at police in the February 21st 2008 riot at the US Embassy in Belgrade. [Reuters]
Serbian citizens harshly complained following a court ruling that acquitted the prime suspect accused of setting fire to the US Embassy in 2008.
The court in Belgrade ruled that Milan Zivanovic, 24, was not responsible for the February 21st 2008 fire, which was started during a riot that killed one person. He was instead convicted of the lesser crime of robbery for stealing a leather jacket and gloves that belonged to an embassy employee. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
Zivanovic was charged in 2009 for his role in setting the embassy on fire, but his trial was delayed several times.
In a statement, the US Embassy in Belgrade said it will continue to monitor the case as it is appealed. "We stress that it is important to pursue justice against all those, including those in authority, who ordered or otherwise supported this egregious violation."
Some in Serbia still believe the violence was at least partially justified by the NATO action campaign in Serbia that ended the Kosovo conflict.
Others, however, told SETimes that the verdict is an embarrassment for Serbia and the legal system.
"They do not talk about this poor guy who died there because they have power now and it doesn't suit them!" Zivana Stojanovic, a retired primary school teacher, said. "But, they confess that someone came into the building and steal something and they convicted him with one year imprisonment. It really insults."
Bojan Koprivica, a restaurant supplier from Belgrade, said the verdict was shameful.
"This country is not capable to sentence even so obvious crimes even when it causes international blame and disapproval," Koprivica told SETimes.
The new government, which took office this year, did not take a position on the ruling.
"The court is an independent institution which makes decisions independently. The job of justice ministry is to create the best conditions for the successful functioning of courts which doesn't allow it to have the influence on their work as well as to have positions regarding their verdicts," the ministry said in a statement to SETimes.
Some law experts said that the main point in this case is what they called the country's inability to collect evidence.
"This is a simplification of this crime and putting in on the level of jacket and gloves stealing with lenient sentence is bad massage from Serbia which is showing that it is not ready to take the responsibility and to fight against those who are committing crimes and firing the embassy is crime," Milan Antonijevic, the director of the Lower Committee for Human Rights, told SETimes.