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Croatia16 June 2006

Relief at Hague court decision not to prosecute three Croatian journalists

Reporters Without Borders voiced relief today at yesterday’s decision by Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), not to prosecute three extreme-right-wing Croatian journalists accused of being in contempt of court for revealing the identity of a protected witness, current Croatian President Stipe Mesic.

Marijan Krizic, the managing editor of the far-right weekly Hrvatsko Slovo, Stjepan Seselj, its editor, and Domagoj Margetic, one of its former journalists, had faced sentences of up to seven years in prison and fines of 100,000 euros. In all, five Croatian journalists have been accused by the ICTY of knowingly obstructing its working by revealing confidential information.

“We considered these prosecutions to be improper, and the potential penalties out of all proportion to the alleged offence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Other news media had reported that President Mesic was a witness. His safety was no longer threatened when these journalists did it. The ICTY itself recognised this when it lifted the secrecy surrounding his testimony.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Their conviction could have set a dangerous precedent for all members of the press involved in this kind of case. We hope that the other Croatian journalist still facing contempt of court charges, Josip Jovic, will not be prosecuted either.”

Krizic, Seselj and Margetic were accused of publishing the secret testimony which Mesic gave when he appeared in 1997 at the trial of Bosnian Croat general, Tihomir Blaskic. They published it in December 2004, at a time when it had already been published by the Veritas website (www.veritas.org.yu) in 1999, and by the Bosnian daily Bih Dani in 2001.

Jovic, the editor of the daily Slobodna Damacija, has been the subject of a separate prosecution by the ICTY since the beginning of this month, although the charge against him is the same and he too faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of 100,000 euros.

A fifth journalist found in contempt of court, Hrvatski List editor Ivica Marijacic, was sentenced on 10 March to a fine of 15,000 euros. He got in touch with a former head of the SIS intelligence service, who gave him the name of another protected witness in the Blaskic case, a Dutch army officer, and a transcript of his testimony. Marijacic has appealed against his conviction.

President Mesic himself told the press he favoured lifting the secrecy concerning his testimony and thereby ending this situation. The ICTY in effect lifted the secrecy on 24 January.

Reporters Without Borders is preparing a special report on contempt of court prosecutions by international tribunals against journalists. It will argue that some of these prosecutions are arbitrary and that the alleged need to protect a witness could prove to be spurious and could cloak political interests.




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