Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic said on Saturday that the court proceedings involving five suspects of the gang rape of an under-age girl in Zadar should be left to the judiciary and that the general public cannot conduct such processes.
"We still do not know the facts and we cannot know how the case will conclude. It should be left to the court," Bosnjakovic said in an interview with the RTL broadcaster on Saturday afternoon after a protest in support for all victims of sexual violence was held in Zagreb earlier in the day.
According to the non-governmental organisations which organised it, several thousand people rallied in the capital city. Also, hundreds of protesters gathered in a few more cities demanding more efficient action by judicial authorities in sexual assault cases.
The rallies were prompted by the Zadar case.
Bosnjakovic underscored that he was particularly sorry to see that the principle of confidentiality was violated in that case, having in mind the fact that it involves underage persons.
On Thursday evening, a panel of Zadar County Court judges granted the prosecution appeal and ordered that all five young men be remanded in investigative custody for 30 days. They were brought in to the police station after a few days before they were released from remand in compliance with the decision of an investigating judge. The judge's decision caused a public outcry.
In his comment on those developments, Minister Bosnjakovic said that he did not know all the elements of the case and that the pertaining documentation was not available to him.
"I do not know the motives why the (investigating) judge made that decision on their release," Bosnjakovic said.
He also explained that the judicial system has instruments available to amend the decisions which are not good.
This has been neither the first nor the last time a decision is overruled, he added.
Bosnjakovic recalled that the government had already prepared draft amendments to the Penal Code, the Protection from Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Procedure Act and that those proposals, aimed at imposing stricter penalties for domestic violence and violence against women, would be on the government's agenda next week so that they could be passed by the parliament until the end of this year.
In mid-September, it was reported that the government would send into public procedure law amendments introducing stricter penalties for domestic violence and violence against women, including the qualification of sexual intercourse without consent as rape, which will be punishable with three to ten years' imprisonment.
At the time Minister Bosnjakovic, who together with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic had met with representatives of organisations and institutions protecting domestic violence victims, said the amendments would be put up for public consultation soon and then to the government and parliament.
"They are meant to enter into force on January 1 next year," according to Bosnjakovic's statement from September 11.
Three laws will be amended - the Penal Code, the Protection from Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Procedure Act.
We are increasing the severity of the penal policy for crimes related to domestic violence because we have made penalties stricter, and we also want to deter potential perpetrators, the minister said then.
Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act envisage solutions aimed at stepping up the procedure and preventing it from taking too long and being obstructed, he explained and highlighted the "redesign of the crime of rape", saying that until now this qualification required the use of force and there was a separate crime - sexual intercourse without consent.
He said the amendments qualified the latter crime as rape and stipulated stricter penalties.