A Kosovo pediatrician revered among ethnic Albanians for her human rights work during a crackdown by Yugoslav authorities was sentenced today in a Serbian court to 12 years in prison for abetting terrorism.
Flora Brovina, 50, was convicted and sentenced in Nis, Serbia's third-largest city, on charges of conspiring against the government to commit terrorism during the 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
Brovina, who founded a women's rights organization in Kosovo and provided desperately needed health care to women and children in the Serbian province during the conflict, has denied the accusations. "I devoted my entire life to children," she told the private Beta news agency after the sentencing. "I am sorry to be in prison from where I can do nothing to help displaced people return to their homes, and to help reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians."
Her attorneys called the sentence unjust and said they would appeal. "Unfortunately, the authorities did not hesitate to use all means, however unjust, to condemn a famous and respected public figure," attorney Husnia Butyqi said.
Lawyers for Brovina said she was taken to the court's jail after sentencing, where she is expected to stay for two or three days before being taken back to prison in Pozarevac, 50 miles east of Belgrade.
In Washington, the State Department condemned the conviction and asked Belgrade to reconsider. "This action is an example of the bankruptcy that faces the Serbian state and the rule of law in Serbia," James Dobbins, the department's special adviser for Kosovo, said.
Brovina is among 1,712 ethnic Albanians--men and women ranging in age from 13 to 73--known to be held in Serbian prisons. Many were seized from refugee convoys during NATO's air campaign. Just before peacekeeping forces moved into Kosovo in June, Yugoslav authorities transferred the prisoners to Serbia.
The Beta news agency said Brovina admitted in an affidavit that she held the position of health minister in Kosovo's exiled ethnic Albanian government and had frequent contact with members of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, a rebel militia that fought a war of independence against Serb-led Yugoslav forces.
Brovina did not deny signing the affidavit, which was read in court before sentencing, but suggested she was coerced into doing so. Beta quoted her as saying that she endured 18 lengthy police interrogations without food.
Brovina was arrested April 20 in front of her apartment in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.