ATLANTA (Dec. 31, 1999) -- CARE aid worker Branko Jelen was released from prison in Yugoslavia today, after eight months in detention. Almost three months ago, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic released Jelen's colleagues Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace on humanitarian grounds.
The three men - all employees of CARE in Yugoslavia - were convicted on May 29 by a Yugoslav military court of passing on secret information to an international organization, namely CARE. CARE has always maintained that the men were innocent of all charges and were merely carrying out their humanitarian work in assisting both Serb and Albanian families displaced by civil conflict.
Jelen, who is a Yugoslav national, will spend time with a professional counselor in the United Kingdom before immigrating with his family to Australia.
CARE USA President and CEO Peter D. Bell said that CARE was "relieved" now that all of CARE's staff had been released. "All of us at CARE are grateful that our colleagues have finally been released," says Bell. "Branko's release at last lifts a burden from the humanitarian community. None of the three men should ever have been imprisoned; their conviction was a travesty of justice."
Bell expressed appreciation for the work of the Australian government and many world leaders who helped to secure the release of the three men. Those lending their support included United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former South African President Nelson Mandela, former US President Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ambassador Andrew Young, Pope John Paul II, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Russian Envoy Victor Chernomyrdin, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Marti Ahtisaari, president of the European Union and of Finland. The governments of China, the United Kingdom and the United States also called for the release of the three men.
"I also want to acknowledge the immense support of the thousands of people around the world who sent messages of encouragement to Branko, his wife Nadja and two young children Manon and Filip while he was in prison," Bell added.
The ordeal for the three men began on March 31, when Pratt and Wallace were detained at the Yugoslav border with Croatia. One week later, Jelen was taken into custody. On May 29, the men were convicted of passing on secret information. Their sentences were reduced on appeal in late July, and they applied for clemency in early August.