Yugoslavia: Miroslav Filipovic freed

New York, October 10, 2000 – -Independent Serbian journalist Miroslav Filipovic, who was jailed by the Milosevic regime this spring on espionage charges, was released from a military prison today, international and local media sources have reported.

Filipovic, a Kraljevo-based correspondent for the Belgrade-daily Danas, Agence France-Presse, and the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, was sentenced on July 26 to seven years in a military prison for articles in which he reported on atrocities committed against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo by the Yugoslav Army.

“This is a wonderful day for Miroslav Filipovic, his family, and all those who have fought for press freedom in Yugoslavia during a decade of repressive rule,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We hope that the new government will take further steps to bolster the Serbian press by repealing the punitive press law and creating an environment in which all journalists are able to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

The oddly contradictory charges leveled against Filipovic were “espionage” and “spreading false information.” The journalist’s article that stirred the most controversy cited a Yugoslav military intelligence report which included testimony from officers who then documented the scale of the Yugoslav Army’s crimes against civilians in Kosovo.

Today at a hearing in Belgrade, chief judge Colonel Milan Ranic of the Yugoslav Army’s Supreme Military Court overturned Filipovic’s conviction on grounds of “procedural abuses during the investigation.” Filipovic’s wife Slavica received a copy of the ruling and went immediately to Nis where she gave it to authorities at the military prison, who ordered Filipovic released.

Retrial Ordered
The journalist’s family, however, continues to insist his conviction should be overturned in a court of law to fully clear his name. A retrial has been ordered.

When Filipovic left the prison with his wife and defense attorney, he was greeted by a group of local and international journalists, the Nis mayor Zoran Zivkovic and top officials from the Nis municipal assembly, according to the Belgrade-based Media Center.

The reporter was imprisoned in May and spent most of September in a military hospital because of a heart condition. He was transferred back to prison four days before the Yugoslav elections because authorities feared protestors might free him in any civil unrest following the elections, according to CPJ sources in Serbia. Filipovic now plans a period of recuperation.

Another Boost For Independent Journalism
On Thursday, September 5, in a separate development in Serbia, members of the student activist group Otpor (Resistance) entered the premises of Radio B92 in Belgrade and reclaimed it for its owners, according to a statement by Veran Matic, the editor in chief of the B92. The station had been under the control of the Milosevic regime since April 1999 when a Belgrade court issued a decision, ousting the independent radio station’s management and employees.