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Serbia-Montenegro13 February 2004

British journalist and four local assistants prosecuted for "harming Montenegro’s image."

Dominic Hipkins, a reporter from the British weekly paper The Sunday Mirror, and four local assistants are to be prosecuted for "harming the image of Montenegro" in a "bogus" report on the trafficking of children, the Podgorica (Montenegro) prosecutor’s office announced on 10 February. Hipkins and the four - photographer Jovo Martinovic, interpreter Sinisa Nadazdin and fixers Dragan Radevic and Nenad Zevenic - were freed pending trial after six days in custody. All face up to three years in prison. Hipkins has since left the country and will be tried in his absence.


Journalist being sought for "harming the image of Montenegro". Four others arrested

Reporters Without Borders has condemned legal action against British journalist Dominic Hipkins and the arrest of four local people, accused of "harming the image of Montenegro" with a "fabricated report" on child-trafficking in the region. They face up to three years in prison.

Without commenting on the content of the article by Hipkins, the international press freedom organisation called for the release of the four who have been arrested and for dropping of the charges, which it called "disproportionate".

Journalists should never be put at risk of prison sentences for harming a country’s image, it said. The authorities should, on the contrary, foster public debate on issues of general interest, in particular on such a serious question as child-trafficking.

Police in Montenegro said on 4 February that they were pressing charges against Hipkins, Jovo Martinovic, Sinisa Nadazdin, Dragan Radevic and Nenad Zevenic for "harming the image of Montenegro" over an article that appeared in the British weekly Sunday Mirror on 25 January and picked up by local newspapers. The British journalist described in the article how he posed as someone wanting to buy children and was offered three young children for sale.

Police said that, aided by the four people arrested, the journalist had fabricated the story and paid women in Podogorica to make up their accounts. The four local people are being held in custody and the British journalist is being sought by police.

Reporters Without Borders called on deputies to repeal Article 82 of the criminal code along with all other articles that unreasonably protect symbols of state, in line with recommendations made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in November 2003.

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