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Serbia-Montenegro5 June 2003

Ban on distribution of weekly

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about a court order banning distribution of the weekly Svedok because of an interview with a suspect in the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The organisation said it was inappropriate to use a recently adopted news media law as the legal basis for the decision.

"This ban is disproportionate and recalls the arbitrary sanctions adopted against several news media during the state of emergency," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "It is all the more serious as it is a court decision based on the new news media law," he said. "We hold that an interview of this kind is news in itself and the newspaper should not be banned for publishing it," Ménard added.

At the request of the prosecutor’s office in Belgrade, a court on 3 June ordered the suspension of Svedok’s distribution and the seizure of all copies of the current issue containing an interview with Milorad Lukovic Legija, the fugitive former commander of the Serbian police special forces and leading suspect in Djindjic’s assassination. The distributor, Borba, stopped Svedok’s distribution during the night of 3 June without telling editor Vlanad Dinic.

The ministry of culture and news media said in a press release that Svedok had tried to disturb the peace and undermine the police investigation’s effects, and had committed a breach of ethics. The decision was based on articles 17 and 18 of the news media law that was adopted on 22 April, during the state of emergency.

The two articles define the circumstances in which a publication can be banned and confiscated, and the procedure to follow. Article 17, in particular, says that a court can block publication of a news item that could have serious and irreparable consequences and cannot be suppressed in any other way. The wording is very vague and lends itself to very broad interpretation about the kind of news that could be concerned by this article and could therefore be subject to a distribution ban.

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