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Croatia17 July 2003

Criminal code amendments and planned press law changes deal a blow to press freedom

Reporters Without Borders today condemned newly adopted amendments to the criminal code and proposed changes to the press law, saying they would hamper access to official information, limit the possibility of criticising public figures and make it easier to prosecute journalists, thereby encouraging self-censorship.

"This regression in press freedom is very regrettable, especially as the president of the European Commission has just described Croatia as an example to follow for Balkan countries seeking to join the European Union," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.

Ménard urged Prime Minister Racan Ivica and culture minister Antun Vujic to do everything possible to ensure that the criminal code amendments are repealed and that any change to the press law does not obstruct the work of journalists.

If the amendments to the press law are passed in their present form, the authorities will be able to refuse to provide information to the press without giving any explanation; the cut-off period for bringing a libel suit will be extended from six months to five years; a newspaper’s editor in chief will be held responsible for libel damages rather than the publisher; and it will be forbidden to publish "official secrets" and "business secrets."

In the first of the two amendments to the criminal code approved on 9 July, parliament repealed article 203, which protected journalists from prosecution for libel if they acted in good faith and there was no intent to defame. Under the second amendment, to article 309, any insult or criticism hampering the work of a judge or prosecutor is henceforth punishable by three years in prison and any journalist expressing an opinion on an ongoing trial can be sentenced to one year in prison.

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