In a ruling which stunned human rights organisations, Flora Brovina, an eminent paediatrician, was found guilty on charges of "conspiring to commit hostile acts" and "terrorism" aimed at the secession of Kosovo from Serbia and Yugoslavia.
The prosecution unexpectedly added charges against Dr Brovina at the last minute alleging that she was involved in the establishment of "Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] military hospitals when Yugoslavia was in a "state of war". Although now disbanded, the KLA is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the Belgrade authorities. Dr Brovina, a founder of the League of Albanian Women denied all the charges.
The evidence against Dr Brovina included a photograph of her with a man in KLA uniform, medical items allegedly confiscated from her properly registered private clinic and wool donated by the British charity Oxfam. The wool was used for knitting sweaters by women who found shelter in Dr Brovina's vicinity, after fleeing other areas of Kosovo during Nato air raids.
Additional evidence presented by the prosecution yesterday included statements the doctor made on her arrest without her lawyers present. Dr Brovina told the court that after 18 interrogating sessions each lasting eight hours she would have "signed anything, just to end the questions".
Dr Brovina's case been singled out by the US State Department and the New York based human rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch. She became a rallying point for the campaign to free all Albanian prisoners transferred from Kosovo to Serb jails.
Dr Brovina's husband Ajri Begu, 48, said: "It was not Flora who was put on trial it was the medical profession. It was a trial against all the brave people, humanists, who stood in the way of the regime, be it by accident, be it intentionally, at bad times." Dr Brovina's two sisters cried openly in front of the court in Nis, Serbia's third biggest city.
Nikola Barovic, a Belgrade lawyer and adviser to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said that no valid evidence against Dr Brovina was presented. "In Stalin's times one got 10 years for nothing. Here one gets 12."
Dr Brovina was arrested at the door of her Pristina home on 20 April by eight Serbian policemen, interrogated at Lipljan prison in Kosovo and later transferred to prison in Pozarevac. Yesterday she told the court that her only aim in all her activities was "to help people, as a doctor, no matter what nation or religion they belonged to".
She added that she regretted not being in Kosovo now, as thousands of Serbs were being expelled from their homes in revenge for atrocities against ethnic Albanians during Nato air strikes. "I would urge all Albanian intellectuals to raise their voices and speak out against violence and in favour of reconciliation. As a woman, I would offer my hand to Serb women as that is what women should do - build bridges, help."