A Bosnian-Croat military leader facing judgement for his war crimes made a dramatic statement and then drank poison at the sentencing phase of his trial Wednesday at The Hague. The moment was caught on camera and created chaos in the court room as those in attendance scrambled to try to stop the poison, but they could not. The man died shortly after.
After hearing the verdict, Slobodan Praljak was asked to sit down by the judge. He did not. Instead he removed a small bottle from his coat. He yelled “I am not a war criminal!” and drank the brown liquid. He then stood for a moment before falling.
Praljak had been at The Hague to receive word on his appeal of a 20-year prison sentence by the International Criminal Tribunal, in the Netherlands. His appeal was denied.
“I just drank poison,” he announced. “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”
“Praljak, 72, is one of six Croatian politicians sentenced to jail for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state in Bosnia in the early 1990s,” The Daily Mail writes.
Bruno Stojic and Milivoj Petkovic, two of the others charged, were seated beside Praljak.
Moments after the incident, Praljak’s lawyer cried out “my client has taken poison” and the judge, Carmel Agius, halted the proceedings and cleared the courtroom.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković held a press conference shortly after the man died. “We have all unfortunately witnessed his act by which he took his own life,” Plenković said.
“His act mostly speaks about a deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people … We voice dissatisfaction and regret about the verdict.”
“Praljak and his allies were trying to establish the ‘Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia’ – an ethnically Croatian enclave,” The Mail writes, “with the city of Mostar as it’s ‘capital’.”
“Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of Mostar’s 16th-century bridge in November 1993, which judges in the first trial had said ’caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population’.”
“It’s just an old bridge,” Praljak said in 1993.