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Serbia-Montenegro11 April 2003

Two journalists arrested under state of emergency for criticising government

Reporters Without Borders protested today at the arrest and detention of journalists Milovan Brkic and Dragisa Petrovic as part of the police investigation into the 12 March assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

Brkic, Belgrade correspondent of the Podgorica (Montenegro) daily paper Dan, and Petrovic, its correspondent in Kragujevac (north of Belgrade), were arrested on 7 April on suspicion of involvement in the murder because they had written articles accusing the government of having ties with underworld gangs. But police say they may themselves be involved with the main murder suspects, the Zemun Gang, who they claimed the journalists had agreed to help by obstructing the enquiry through writing articles deliberately misleading the public.

"The arrest of the two because they criticized the government in print is extremely serious and a crime against free expression," said Reporters Without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to interior minister Dusan Mihajlovic and culture and media minister Branislav Lecic.

"No evidence has yet been presented to show the journalists have links with the gangs. We ask you to explain why they have been arrested and to free them at once if nothing in what they have written justifies their detention."

The state of emergency declared after the murder allows police to detain for up to 30 days anyone who "threatens the safety of other citizens." During that period, they are not permitted to contact a lawyer or family members or appear in court. The interior minister can extend the detention for another 30 days.

The information ministry suspended distribution of Dan on 18 March after it published several articles questioning the state of emergency and related government measures. The Stampa Komerc distributing company was fined 200,000 dinars (3,300 euros).

A 17 March decree restricting media reporting about reasons for the state of emergency and about its implementation, signed by parliament president Nastasa Micic, banned publication of news about Djindjic’s murder that was not confirmed by the government. It provides for fines of up to 500,000 dinars (8,200 euros) and suspension of the media concerned.

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