When Sead Makalic saw his neighbors’ stepdaughter being whipped as she was forced to pull their cart as though she were a horse, he was so shocked he reported it to the police in his village in northeast Bosnia.
Makalic’s call — and the photograph he took of her as proof — led to the liberation of a German teen who Bosnian authorities say was enslaved for eight years by a couple who subjected her to inhumane treatment and torture.
“Acting on a tip, police freed the 19-year-old woman, Betina, who had been enslaved and abused for some eight years,” Admir Arnautovic, the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Tuzla, told ABC News. “The girl was not allowed to communicate with people, was not allowed to go to school, was starved, beaten and forced to hard labor.”
Milenko Marinkovic, 52, and his wife Slavojka, 45, were arrested on May 17 on suspicion of illegal imprisonment and cruel treatment.
The young woman is now in a safe house in Tuzla, but is in a bad psychological and physical state, officials said. When she was found in a forest near the village, she weighed only 88 pounds.
“She had visible signs of torture all over her body” Arnautovic said. “I’ve been in this business for a long time, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything of this nature.”
Makalic, a neighbor, who has become something of a national hero, said he has known the girl since she arrived to Bosnia, when he was helping Marinkovics build his house in their village of Karavlasi, in northeast Bosnia.
“I did not pay much attention to the girl, but then I saw her several years ago when she was eating pig food from a dog bowl,” Makalic said.
It is unclear how much the other residents of the village knew about Betina, even though she lived in the village for eight years.
Makalic said Milenko Marinkovic, whose family is of Roma origin, was not the girl’s father but was once married to her mother, Kristina Siger, who is a German citizen from Halle.
It is believed that Betina’s mother married him to help him get a German residence permit. Siger arrived in Bosnia with Betina and four other daughters, who all married Markovic’s brothers and live abroad in Germany or Austria.
Betina’s mother lives near where the girl was being held captive, and is being questioned regarding her role, the prosecutor’s spokesman said.
Makalic called the police about the girl before, but the couple “managed to hide the girl from authorities,” he said.
He did not see Betina again for a year, but when he spotted her again on May 15, he took a picture of her with his cell phone and called the police again.
“This time it worked,” he said.