CPJ Update: Milosevic regime tightens noose around domestic critics and foreign reporters

April 28, 1999 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to safeguarding press freedom around the world, has documented recent moves by Yugoslav authorities to stamp out the last vestiges of independent reporting, while upping the stakes for foreign correspondents, who now face the risk of long-term detention.

April 26: Military Censors at TV Studio B

* :Serbian authorities have placed a military censor in the studios of Belgrade’s Studio B to monitor their daily 7 p.m. half-hour newscast, assuring that no uncensored information about the army will make it on the air. The move came in response to Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic’s unscripted remarks which Studio B aired on Sunday, April 25. Draskovic, whose party controls the city-owned Studio B, criticized the Serb state-run television network RTS and President Slobodan Milosevic’s disinformation tactics in particular, urging news providers to be more truthful with the people. The station’s broadcasts, as well as all other media in Yugoslavia, have been subjected to political and military censorship since Serbia adopted a new information law last October. Draskovic was sacked on April 28 in reprisal for his comments.

Montenegro’s Independent Antenna M Radio and Weekly Monitor Suspend Operations
* Miodrag Perovic, who heads the independent radio station Antenna M and the weekly magazine  Monitor in Podgorica has gone into hiding. He decided to close down both operations rather than submit to military censorship. An outspoken critic of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, Perovic said he is trying to avoid capture and possible torture by the Yugoslav Army. In a recent editorial, Perovic urged the Montenegrin government to stage a de facto coup by seizing control of the federal army bases located in the republic.

April 25: BBC Crew Detained in Montenegro * BBC correspondent Brian Barron, his cameraman Jonny Bonny, and producer Simon Wilson, were detained in Podgorica for five hours. They were filming in a park in the Montenegrin capital when they were confronted by a Yugoslav federal soldier who accused them of espionage. They were taken to a military barracks for interrogation. Their videotape was confiscated along with the names of their local contacts. After a stern warning not to photograph in the area again, they were released in good condition.

April 24: Japanese Diplomat Allowed Contact with Imprisoned German Reporter
* Noriaki Owada, the Japanese ambassador, who represents Germany’s interests in Yugoslavia, was allowed to visit German reporter Hans-Peter “Pit” Schnitzler in a Belgrade jail. The Japanese ambassador reported that Shnitzler, the southeast correspondent for Germany’s SAT-1 television, was in good physical condition and did not appear to have been mistreated. Serb army officials arrested Schnitzler on April 16 and charged him with espionage. Germany unequivocally denied that the journalist is a spy, calling the allegations “ridiculous.”

French and Croatian Journalists Detained for Alleged Spying * Eric Vaillant, a cameraman for French TF-1 television, and Antun Masle, a correspondent for the Croatian weekly Globus, were ordered to remain in jail for 30 days. Eric Vaillant was arrested on April 20 for filming in the area around Rozaje, Montenegro. Antun Masle was arrested on April 21 when he crossed the border from Albania. A Yugoslav army judge in Montenegro ordered a month-long investigation into charges of espionage against both journalists. If they are found guilty, they face a minimum of 10 years in prison. French President Jacques Chirac called their detention “reprehensible.”

April 24: Financial Times Balkans Correspondent Expelled
* Guy Dinmore, a correspondent for the Financial Times,/I> and a stringer for Voice of America, was expelled from Belgrade by Yugoslav authorities.

April 23: Editor of Independent TV Soko Given Yearlong Prison Sentence
* A Sokobanja district court found Nebojsa Ristic, editor of independent TV Soko in Sokobanja, guilty of disseminating false information under Article 218 of the Serbian penal code. The charges stemmed from a poster found in Ristic’s office that read, “Free Press Made in Serbia!” along with a Radio B92 logo. Lawyers for Ristic appealed the decision on April 26, but the appeal was denied.

April 22: Koha Ditore Resumes Publication in Macedonia
Koha Ditore, Kosovo’s largest independent Albanian-language daily, which was shut down by Yugoslav forces on March 22, has renewed publishing in Macedonia. Editor-in-Chief Baton Haxhiu is overseeing the reconstructed newspaper.

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