Anniversary of the Beginning of the „1983 Sarajevo Trial“ against the Muslim Intellectuals

“All those who took part in the trial – the investigation officers, the prosecutors and the judges – continued to live their lives normally and do their jobs, and some even retained the same posts as before. As a politician, I forgave them. As a man, I did not.“ Alija Izetbegović on whether there would be reprisals against the individuals who took part in „The Sarajevo Trial“

The infamous “Sarajevo Trial” began on 18th July 1983 – a staged political trial that was conducted against the Muslim intellectuals by the Communist government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During the intensive day-and-night investigation that lasted over 100 days, around 600 individuals were interrogated, and the following were indicted: Alija Izetbegović (retired lawyer), Omer Behmen (civil engineer), Hasan Čengić (religious official), Ismet Kasumagić (metallurgical engineer, a UN expert), Edhem Bičakčić (electrical engineer), Husein Živalj (mechanical engineer), Rušid Prguda (retired economist), Salih Behmen (teacher), Mustafa Spahić (religious official), Džemaludin Latić (professor at Gazi Husrev-bey religious school), Melika Salihbegović (writer), Derviš Đurđević (lawyer) i Đula Bičakčić (clerk).

The charges were made on the basis of the Articles 114 and 13 of the Criminal Law of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The first related to the “conspiracy against the state“ and the second to the “verbal delict“. The prosecutor was the ambitious Edina Rešidović, who the accused described as being too fervent in her work, while the President of the Council was Rizah Hadžić, a judge who was claimed to be the supporter of the state policy and enforcer of its orders.

The basis for the part of the charges regarding “conspiracy against the state“, the Prosecutor found in the work by Alija Izetbegović “The Islamic Declaration“, for which Izetbegović himself stated that it did not apply to Yugoslavia, but countries with the majority Muslim population, and that it was concerned with the problems in the Muslim world.

Before stating his defence, Alija Izetbegović had three objections of a procedural nature:

  1. “Thirteen people are included in the charges, seven of whom have absolutely no connection with the basic subject of the charges (the creation of the group on the basis of the Declaration); five of the accused are not known to me at all…
  2. …I request that I be given a public hearing, in accordance with the law. I have nothing to hide, only the court may have. I wish to defend myself before the widest possible public, for I am innocent and will not submit my defence solely to Judge Hadžić, but to every honest man in Yugoslavia and beyond…
  3. My third objection relates to the conduct of the press. Even before the beginning of this trail, part of the press had proclaimed me to be a nationalist, a counter-revolutionary, an enemy of the state, and practically condemned me without trial…This is in contempt of this court, but I am not aware that the court has taken any steps to protect, if not the accused, then at least its own integrity and the law.“

During the course of the trial, out of the total of 59 witnesses, 56 were questioned for the prosecution, and only 3 for the defence. Of those, 23 were irrelevant both for the prosecution and the defence, and the verdict did not even mention them. Of the remaining 36, 15 stood by the statements they had made in the pre-trial proceedings, statements that favoured the prosecution, while as many as 21 witnesses to a greater or lesser extent changed the depositions they had made earlier during the investigation, or retracted them completely, indicating that the majority of statements had been given under duress.

The trial lasted until 19th August 1983, and the next day the verdict was announced, in which all indicted were found guilty and sentenced to the total of 89.5 years in prison, which was reported in the daily newspaper “Oslobođenje” with the hyped up headline “90 years of prison to the enemies”.  

The real reason for incarceration and trial of these 13 Bosniak intellectuals was non-existent even according to the strict Yugoslavia’s Criminal Law, which was reflected in the fact that the trial was closed for public, and the fact that it was staged was claimed by the world press, international organisations for human rights and the free element of the Yugoslav press. Even the Federal Court in Belgrade, with its verdict from 31st October 1985, rejected as unfounded and unsubstantiated the part of the charges pertaining to the formation of an enemy group with the aim of counterrevolutionary conspiracy against the state, however, extremely high sentences for the “verbal delict” remained. In his book “The Unescapable Questions”, Alija Izetbegović writes regarding the “verbal delict”: “We learned at school that the history of mankind began, that man became a ‘historical animal’ when he learned to write. But man became the human species when he learned to speak, to say what he thought. And then came others who forbade him to speak, thinking up the infamous ‘verbal delict’, offences of the word, and returned him to the obscurity whence he had emerged.“

The state of general persecution and the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that prevailed in B&H society during the investigation and trial were best described by Rajko Danilović, a famous Belgrade lawyer, in his book “Sarajevo Trial 1983”: “The press and other media competed energetically in creating an atmosphere of persecution and sowing fear. I had the impression that in those days being a Muslim (Bosniak) was in itself dangerous and risky. This degree of a priori hostility and hatred was not only the result of Communist intolerance of dissidents and pressure from the political police, but also of a deeper, irrational hatred with a theological and ethnic background, which in less than 10 years would turn into relentless war and extermination of Muslims (Bosniaks)”.

Thus, from a historical distance, the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into places, indicating that the purpose of the Sarajevo trial in 1983 was not only to destroy the Bosniak intelligentsia in Bosnia and Herzegovina and suppress freedom of religion and speech, but also to portray Bosniaks as “enemies” ready for “ethnic cleansing ”and the creation of an “Islamic state”, which served to prepare the ground for the armed aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina and to justify the genocide committed against Bosniaks during the 1990s.

Excerpts from Alija Izetbegović’s book “The Unescapable Questions – the Autobiographical Notes“:

“There is no rational explanation for the regime’s behaving so rigorously. Was it a desperate move on the part of a government that was already in decline? Strong regimes do not condemn people for the spoken word; weak ones are afraid, and resort to violence in an attempt to prolong their existence.

As for the public, it often regards political prisoners as guilty for its own selfish reasons. It is a kind of defence mechanism. People cannot come to terms with the fact that they are living in a society where they do not have the protection of law and order. Then they are faced with the question of how it is that they can remain silent. Is it because it is easier for them to believe that the convicted person is guilty, that in any case he must have broken the law, because if not, why would he be imprisoned and convicted? For if an innocent man is convicted in disregard of the law, then the person reflecting on this does not feel safe any longer, and people instinctively reject this in self-defence. The harsher the sentence, the more easily this conclusion is reached and accepted. In the absence of evidence, a severe sentence is itself evidence of guilt. For, as a man in the street reasons, if he wasn’t guilty, he’d have gotten two or three years, not fifteen. Without clear and explicit proof of guilt, a lenient sentence of itself arouses suspicions, and indicates that even the authorities are unsure of themselves. In the case of a harsh sentence, that kind of doubt is dispelled. So the innocent man receives twice the sentence.“

„After gaining my freedom, I gave many interviews in which I spoke about the trial. In 1990, when I was victorious at the polls, the most frequent question was wheher there would be reprisals against the Communists for what they had done to me and my friends. I replied that there would be no reprisals: and there were none. All those who took part in the trial – the investigation officers, the prosecutors and the judges – continued to live their lives normally and do their jobs, and some even retained the same posts as before. As a politician, I forgave them. As a man, I did not.“


  1. Izetbegović, Alija. Inescapable Questions – Autobiographical Notes. The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, England, 2003.
  2. Nanić, Faris. Alija Izetbegović – kratka biografija. Sarajevo: Muzej „Alija Izetbegovic“, 2019.
  3. Danilović, Rajko. Sarajevski proces 1983. Tuzla: Bosanska riječ, 2006.
  4. Džunuzović, Anes. Feljton – Mladi muslimani (IX): Sarajevski proces 1983. bio je priprema za agresiju na BiH,