New York, July 24, 2000 — Starting tomorrow, a military court in the city of Nis (235 kilometers south of Belgrade) will hear the case of Miroslav Filipovic, a leading Serbian investigative journalist charged with espionage and spreading false information.
The trial is expected to last two days, according to CPJ’s local sources. The verdict should be issued immediately upon the completion of the proceedings, before the court begins its August recess.
Filipovic is a Kraljevo-based reporter for the Belgrade-based independent daily Danas and a regular contributor to Agence France-Presse and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The case was apparently triggered by his coverage of the activities of Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo and southern Serbia for the IWPR.
One of Filipovic’s IWPR pieces described atrocities allegedly committed by Yugoslav Army soldiers in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO bombardment, based on the soldiers’ own accounts. Serbian authorities seem also to have been angered by Filipovic’s account of Serbian police repression in southern Serbia, by his eyewitness report on a rebellion by Yugoslav Army reservists, and by his exclusive article about the smuggling of Serbian agents provocateurs into Kosovo.
“Once again, the Milosevic regime has shown that it is prepared to use any means, no matter how illegal or absurd, to silence independent journalism in Yugoslavia,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Miroslav Filipovic is obviously not a spy, but a well-respected reporter who is being prosecuted for informing the world about matters which, while embarrassing to the government of Yugoslavia, are nonetheless of vital public interest. We demand that Yugoslav authorities release him at once, and that all charges against him be dropped.”
Filipovic was initially detained on May 8, along with several other independent journalists and opposition activists, as part of a major crackdown on independent media and the anti-Milosevic opposition.
Serbian authorities claimed that they arrested Filipovic to prevent him from destroying or hiding “evidence” necessary for judicial proceedings, according to local and international sources. During the arrest, four plainclothes representatives of the Serbian State Security Service (RDB) confiscated his passport, address book, diary, computer hard disk, three floppy disks, and about a hundred pages of printed text, all without a proper warrant.
Filipovic was then sent to a military prison in Nis. He was released four days after the arrest when a military prosecutor decided there was insufficient evidence to indict him on espionage charges. However, Filipovic was re-arrested on May 22 and has been in custody ever since.
On June 14, the Nis military court finally charged Filipovic with espionage and spreading false news. The court rejected a request from Filipovic’s lawyers that he be released to prepare his defense, claiming that the journalist might flee the country or seek to influence witnesses. (There is no bail system in Serbia.)
Filipovic has been charged with espionage under Clause 128 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code and with the lesser offense of spreading false information under Clause 218 of the Serbian Criminal Code. If convicted, he faces from three to fifteen years in jail.