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Croatia7 March 2002

Feral Tribune survival jeopardised by heavy fines

In a letter addressed to Ivica Racan, First Minister of Croatia, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) expressed its surprise at the harshness of the condemnations imposed on the Feral Tribune, all the more that they jeopardise the survival of the satirical weekly.

"Never, up to now, had the Feral Tribune which has always been very critical towards the authorities been sentenced to so heavy fines. These condemnations concerning articles published more than five years ago dash the hopes set in the Tudjman aftermath in terms of freedom of expression in Croatia", declared Robert Ménard, general secretary of the organisation. "We ask you to set up all that will allow the Feral Tribune to keep on making use of its right to inform and make sure that the attacks against the media by the former president or his close relations be no more admitted", added Robert Ménard.

According to the information gathered by RSF, the bank account of the satirical weekly Feral Tribune was frozen on 1st March 2002, further to condemnations by the regional Court of Zagreb, to fines amounting to 200 000 kuna (27 183 euros) for " moral damage " and for "cosmopolitan opinions and views". Freezing the bank account together with the amount of the fines endanger for the Feral Tribune the possibility to keep on publishing in the future. The first indictment rests on an article written in 1993 by the historian of art Zvonko Makovic, in which he analysed Marica Mestrovic’s incompetence in his management of Mestrovic Foundation. While the author’s analysis has been regarded as an acceptable form of public criticism, the magazine was heavily condemned for having published it. The second condemnation refers to an article written in 1996 by Viktor Ivancic, who was criticising the anti-Semitic and pro-fascist remarks of Zeljko Olujic, an attorney closely related to the former president Franjo Tudjman. Besides, this latter is conducting the defence of Marica Mestrovic. The Court upholding the decision of the first proceeding, declared Viktor Ivancic guilty of having expressed "cosmopolitan opinions and views" and condemned the Feral Tribune to pay substantial damages to Zeljko Olujic. RSF stipulates that the term "cosmopolitan opinions and views " is unknown to the Croatian lawyers questioned and is surprised that it may justify a condemnation.

In an interview with RSF, Predrag Lucic, assistant editor in chief of the weekly, stipulated that the newspaper had appealed from both the condemnations passed in October 2001, but the freezing of the bank account had been ordered before their investigation. The next edition of the Feral Tribune should publish again the incriminated articles.

RSF reminds that in May 2000, the constitutional Court had declared unconstitutional the article of the penal code that enabled to sue the opponents to the former President. The dispositions related to offence, labelling, access to information, protection of State and military secrets, as well as the surveillance of intelligence agencies keep on weighing on the working conditions of journalists in Croatia.

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