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Montenegro17 June 2002

Newspaper condemned for saying President was cigarette smuggler

The Montenegrin daily newspaper Dan was ordered on 13 June to pay Montegrin President Milo Djukanovic 15,500 euros damages for causing him "moral anguish" by reprinting newspaper articles saying he was involved in cigarette smuggling.

Condemning the verdict and noting that former Dan editor Vladimir Asanin had been sentenced last year to three months in jail for libel in the same case, Reporters sans frontières secretary-general Robert Ménard called on Montenegro to bring itself "up to European human rights and press freedom standards" if it wanted to be admitted to membership of the Council of Europe in September."

"We ask you to depenalise defamation so that prison sentences are no longer passed on journalists simply exercising their right to inform the public," he said in a letter to Djukanovic.

Djukanovic sued Asanin and Dan after the paper last year reprinted articles from the Croatian weekly Nacional reporting links between the president, Serbian prime minister Zoran Djinjic and underworld groups in a Balkan cigarette-smuggling racket. As well as being ordered to pay damages, Asanin is currently awaiting the result of his appeal to the Supreme Court against his jail sentence.

Reporters Without Borders notes that a parliamentary commission of enquiry is looking into the truth of the Nacional reports. At the end of last month, a court in the Italian city of Bari began investigating Djukanovic for having "underworld associations linked to international cigarette smuggling." On 13 June, Nacional’s editor, Ivo Pukanic, told the Italian press he had been summoned to give evidence in the investigation.

Montenegro’s libel law provides for imprisonment of between three months and three years and says the editor of the paper that printed the libel also bears responsibility.

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