The Sarajevo Trial

Gradually, Alija Izetbegović’s writings, which of course had not escaped the attention of the UDB, led him into new difficulties, when he and several other “Islamic intellectuals” were suspected of “anti-state activities.”  Early in the morning of 23 March 1983, Alija was woken by a banging on the door of his flat on the third floor of no 14 Hasan Kikić Street.  When he opened the door, a number of obscure figures burst in, without removing their shoes, brandishing a search warrant, and proceeded to search the flat, dragging cupboards away from the wall, taking down roller blinds, pulling out drawers in their attempt to find evidence of Izetbegović’s intellectual political activities and the books in his private library.  Late in the day they ordered him to accompany them to the State Security Service premises, where he was told that he was to be held in detention for three days.  This was later extended to thirty days, and then to an indefinite term of pre-trial detention.  The investigation and interrogations lasted for about a hundred days and nights (night-time interrogations were not uncommon).  Hundreds of Muslims from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina were arrested along with Izetbegović and interrogated – the famous Sarajevo Trial had begun.

The indictment was based on Articles 114 and 133 of the Criminal Code of Socialist Yugoslavia: “association with a view to undermining the constitutional order,” and “verbal delict.”    In addition, the indictment against Izetbegović also charged him with being leader of a group of “conspirators,” though as it would later turn out at the trial, he had never seen some of the accused before.

It was true that five of the twelve accused had all belonged to the Young Muslims in the late 1940s, but when the organization was abolished in the early 1950s they had ceased to act in concert, mainly out of fear for their very lives.

Even so, the court found sufficient evidence to bring a number of Muslims to court, accusing them, to put it simply, of wanting to break up Yugoslavia (posing a “counter-revolutionary threat to the social order in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”) and, allegedly, to build an Islamic state on the ruins, which they would then perhaps incorporate into the rest of the Islamic world.  Though such accusations now provoke only wry smiles, at the time the situation was anything but amusing.

On day one, Alija Izetbegović, Omer Behmen, Hasan Čengić, Ismet Kasumagić, Edhem Bičakčić, Husein Živalj, Rušid Prguda, Salih Behmen, Mustafa Spahić, Džemaludin Latić, Melika Salihbegović, Derviš Đurđević and Đula Bičakčić were brought into the courtroom.  Almost all were known to have played a more or less significant part in safeguarding Bosnia and Herzegovina against aggression, which to some extent corroborates the hypothesis that the Yugoslav authorities knew whom they were dealing with.

The prosecutor was Edina Rešidović, who, the accused were to say, conducted her case with particular zeal in what was obviously a show trial.  She based the accusation of “counter-revolution activity” on Izetbegović’s Islamic Declaration which, she claimed, had been translated into Arabic, Turkish, English and German between 1974 and 1983 with the intention of posing a counter-revolutionary threat to the social order of Socialist Yugoslavia, and published in these languages with a foreword; in addition, with a view to creating a body of like-minded associates at home to pose a counter-revolutionary threat to the social order in the manner and with the aims set out in the Declaration, the accused had given copies to numerous intellectuals – Husein Đozo, Muhamed Kupusović, Husein Živalj, Hasan Čengić, Rusmir Mahmutćehajić, Mehmedalija Hadžić, Melika Salihbegović and Edhem Bičakčić, following which Hasan Čengić, Ismet Kasumagić, Huso Živalj and Edhem Bičakčić had become members of the group.

Since there was no evidence to support these claims, it being perfectly clear that the Islamic Declaration did not pertain to Yugoslavia at all, the prosecution resorted to extorting statements from witnesses.  One by one, Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders were brought in by the secret police and interrogated day and night.  Under pressure, many signed a certain statement, but when brought before the court to repeat what had ostensibly been their own statement, their consciences pricked them and they refused to do so, contrary to what the prosecution had expected.  Nonetheless, the judiciary, under political orders, high-handedly upheld their signed statements one by one.

Fifty-nine witnesses were questioned, 56 requested by the prosecution and only three by the defence.  The statements of 23 of them were irrelevant to both the prosecution and the defence, and were not called.  Of the remaining 36, fifteen held largely to their accusatory pre-trial statements, but 21 altered their pre-trial statements to a greater or lesser degree, and in some cases, repudiated them altogether.

Many of the witnesses complained of their treatment while making their statements.  Some claimed that their testimony had been altered to suit the charges.  The principal methods used by the interrogators were blackmail and various kinds of pressure and threats.  For example, one witness, Rešid Hafizović, stated that the interrogator had pulled a gun on him, and Enes Karić that his statement had been so altered as to be unrecognizable, after which he was forced to sign it.  Even as he did so, he was planning to deny everything in the statement.  At a Supreme Court hearing on 14 March 1984, one of the accused, Mustafa Spahić, said that he had been faced with a choice by his interrogators: either to sign a statement against one of the three principal accused or to be charged himself.  On refusing to give false evidence, he was sentenced to a five-year prison term.

Izetbegović demanded a public trial, and also complained that for the most part, only “politically correct” media representatives were allowed into the courtroom, whose reports were not impartial, but followed the prosecution line.

Gradually, various human rights organizations began to put in an appearance, calling for a stay of proceedings, since it was increasingly obvious that this was a trial of non-sympathizers, not for what they had done, but simply because they held different views.

With hindsight, it may seem somewhat strange that it was from Belgrade, albeit only well after the verdicts had been handed down, that a trenchant voice against the Sarajevo Trial of the twelve was heard.  A petition signed by twenty leading Belgrade intellectuals was sent to the Presidency of Yugoslavia on 6 June 1986: “Twelve Muslim intellectuals were on trial in Sarajevo between 18 July and 19 August 1983.  This trial will go down in the history of the present-day Yugoslav judiciary as the archetype of exemplary punishment for word and thought.  The court of first instance handed down draconian sentences for delict of opinion, unusual even in our circumstances: three of the accused received a five-year prison sentence, two a six-year sentence, one a sentence of six years and six months, one of seven, two of ten, one of fourteen and one of fifteen years.  The sentences handed down by the Supreme Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina were only slightly less harsh, ranging from three years and six months to twelve years” noted the petition.

The petition was reissued in October 1986, noting that the charges were concocted and that the trial was unjust and not conducted lawfully, and calling on the Presidency to free the accused.

Contrary to what might have been expected, this did not induce the court to reduce the sentences.  As the principal accused, Izetbegović was sentenced to a seemingly endless fourteen years in prison.  Commenting on the verdict, he observed that he loved Yugoslavia, but not its authorities.  The final few sentences of his closing remarks reveal a man who was willing to sacrifice literally everything for his ideals: “I was and shall remain a Muslim.  I saw myself as a fighter for the Islamic cause in this world, and shall see myself in the same way to the end of my days.  For me, Islam is another name for all that is fine and noble, a name for the promise or hope of a better future for Muslim nations, for their life in dignity and freedom, in a word, for everything that, in my belief, is worth living for.”

The day after the verdict was pronounced, the daily newspaper Oslobođenje came out with the headline: “90 years for the enemies.”

The long years of incarceration were to follow.


The permanent museum exhibition is located in the towers Kapi-kula Ploča and Širokac. In the Ploča tower, the life of Alija Izetbegović as statesman and politician is displayed on chronologically arranged exhibition boards, accompanied by text and photographs. In the Širokac tower, the exhibition is dedicated to Izetbegović's role as the Supreme Commander in the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Serbian agression.



Established in the recent times, the Museum „Alija Izetbegović“ offers modern answers to questions from the past, but also sets the foundation for the future. Through its objective scientific approach, it encourages young people, intellectuals and researchers to approach modern history with expertise and knowledge. 



The Museum educational programs are designed for elementary and secondary school students. They include professional tours of the permanent museum exhibition, interactive school workshops, pedagogical and educational publications, lectures, special programmes observing important historical dates, etc.