Government official attacks journalist

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New York, April 21, 2000 — Serbian ultranationalist leader and deputy prime minister Vojislav Seselj has insinuated that an independent journalist’s life may be in danger. Appearing April 12 on a government TV program called “Fifth Column,” about the anti-Milosevic opposition, Seselj named a newspaper reporter in Bosnia-Herzegovina as likely to suffer a fate similar to that of the late Slavko Curuvija, an independent publisher who was murdered in Belgrade last spring.

Curuvija, editor and publisher of the daily newspaper Dnevni Telegraf, was killed on April 11, 1999, by unknown gunmen who were widely believed to have acted at the instigation of the Milosevic regime. One year later, Seselj blamed the journalist’s death on the United States, suggesting that Curuvija had been killed because he was “of no further use to the American secret services.”

Seselj went on to suggest that other journalists could be in danger, and named Aleksandar Tijanic of the independent newspaper Nezavisne Novine in Banja Luka, capital of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “The Americans will do the same with others, like Aleksandar Tijanic, use them and throw them away like squeezed lemons,” Seselj said.

Tijanic responded to Seselj’s remarks on the following day, April 13. In an interview with the independent news agency Beta, the journalist said that if anything happened to him, “Seselj should know that it will not be forgotten as long as there are journalists in Serbia, and everyone will know who was to blame.”

Yugoslav government officials have often accused independent journalists of being traitors in the pay of foreign agencies. Seselj himself has made such accusations openly in the recent past. At a press conference in Belgrade on February 10, 2000, for example, he described journalists from a number of independent news agencies (including Radio B292, and the newspapers Glas Javnosti, Blic, and Danas) as “traitors to the Serb nation” and “murderers of your people and your country.”

The government crackdown on the independent Serbian press is continuing unabated. In the past two weeks, fines have been levied under the draconian Information Law against four independent media outlets: the Beta news agency, the weekly Vreme, the daily Blic, and the Belgrade television station Studio B.

CPJ’s Europe program coordinator, Emma Gray, deplored Seselj’s latest attack on the press. “We condemn the inflammatory statements of Serb officials against journalists”, she said. “The authorities are making every possible effort to bankrupt and intimidate independent media.”