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Serbia-Montenegro23 February 2005

One-year suspended prison sentence for journalist in libel case

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the one-year suspended prison sentence for libel imposed on former Podrinski Telegraf editor Milan Milinkovic in the western city of Sabac on 10 February, pointing out that both the United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) oppose the application of prison sentences for press offences.

"Worse still, the Serbian government has just published a draft new criminal code that would make attacks on a person’s honour and reputation punishable by a year in prison, although justice minister Zoran Stojkovic gave OSCE representative undertakings in November 2004 to decriminalize press offences," the press freedom organization said.

The one-year suspended sentence was handed down by municipal court judge Ivica Lazarevic in response to a libel action brought by Nebojsa Jovanovic, the owner of Medikom (a company that distributes Kodak products in Serbia), over a March 2002 article about Medikom’s links with former President Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia and with the Yugoslav Left Party of Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana Markovic.

The judge ruled that the word "relationship" was "inappropriate" in the context of the article and that Milinkovic should have used the term "cooperation." Milinkovic was also fined 100 euros and ordered to pay 400 euros in court costs. His lawyer, Branislav Sekulovic, said he would appeal.

The draft law envisaging prison sentences for journalists in violation of the justice minister’s pledge to the OSCE was published on 19 February. In cases in which journalists reveal information about a person’s private life that is liable to affect their honour and reputation, they can be given a one-year suspended sentence. The new draft criminal code also envisages suspended prison sentences of up to six months for libel.

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