Quest Launched for Reporter's Freedom as He Paces Behind Bars in Bosnian Serb Jail
THE warden escorted David Rohde to his cell and left. Scared, Rohde stood near the doorway, feeling the eyes of the room's five occupants upon him.Skip to next paragraph
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Hours ago, he'd thought he was on the verge of freedom. Now he seemed to have turned a corner in a Balkan maze and found bars instead of an exit.
Five days had passed since his capture by Bosnian Serbs. As far as Rohde was aware, no one he cared about knew where he was, and his family probably thought he was dead.
''Hi, how are you,'' he said nervously in Serbian. ''I'm an American journalist. My name's David.''
One of the men turned toward him. ''Are you the American journalist?'' he asked.
''Yes,'' said Rohde.
''I just heard your brother on Voice of America,'' said the prisoner. ''He's trying to get you out.''
Rohde felt a rush of elation. His family knew he was alive.
Christian Science Monitor reporter David Rohde sneaked into Bosnian Serb territory in late October in search of evidence of war crimes.
Caught at a dam where Muslim civilians appeared to have been massacred, minutes from the end of his mission and a safe return, he was held by police convinced that no journalist would risk so dangerous a trip. Instead, they appeared sure that he was a spy.
The authorities of the self-styled ''Republic of Srpska,'' Rohde decided, were obsessed with sovereignty and respect for their laws.
This wasn't surprising in light of the fact that the outside world considers Srpska less a nation than an armed camp of usurpers.
After days of interrogation, Rohde was increasingly confident he would survive his ordeal. The problem was that somehow, before this was over, he would have to satisfy his captors' desire for Bosnian Serb respect.
'Like a bird'
Still, his sentence was somewhat unexpected. On Friday, Nov. 3, Rohde was waiting in a small office in the Zvornik police station, a room he'd come to know all too well. His interrogator, Marko, was late.
When Marko finally arrived, around 3 in the afternoon, he was still wearing the clothes he'd had on all week - a short leather jacket and lavender pants - but he was carrying a thick volume Rohde hadn't seen before.
It was the criminal code of the Republic of Srpska. Marko sat at his desk, copying passages from the law book. Then he said the words Rohde had been waiting to hear through the long hours of his five-day Zvornik interrogation: ''I think, Mr. David, we are finished.''
Marko typed up his notes, handed them over for Rohde's signature, and rose to go. Rohde came with him.
''Mr. David, if you are lucky, tomorrow you will be like a bird,'' said Marko as they walked out the door. ''Be like a bird, and fly away.''
The judge's office was several buildings down the street. It resembled a courtroom about as much as Rohde looked like American actor Brad Pitt, but Rohde hoped it might be the place of his deliverance. A translator was already there, as was the guard who had collared Rohde near the village of Sahanici.
The Monitor journalist thanked the elderly man for not shooting him. The guard said it was no problem, that he had in fact been scared that Rohde would somehow kill him. The man's hair was combed, as if this appearance was an important moment in his life. He had bagged an American journalist - maybe even a spy - and seemed proud. Rohde decided he was a nice guy in spite of everything.
The judge was a woman. The court proceedings were relatively brief. Rohde was asked if he'd changed his accreditation to enter the territory. He said ''yes'' - he'd admitted that right off. He denied seeing signs prohibiting photography at the sites he'd visited. There'd been no fence around the dam at Sahanici, he said. He drove right in.
Nobody was talking about espionage. He must have finally convinced them that he didn't work for the CIA. ''I'm sorry,'' Rohde told the judge, ''I was just trying to find out the truth.''
''I will announce my decision in half an hour,'' the judge said.
The defendant and audience filed into the next room.
But judgment took longer than 30 minutes. An hour went by. ''It's got to be the firing squad,'' joked Marko. Everyone laughed.
Finally, Rohde was called back into the courtroom.
''David Rohde is found guilty,'' intoned the judge. ''He is hereby sentenced to 15 days in prison, minus six already served.''