New York, November 27, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about an ongoing government investigation of two independent Belgrade publications, the weekly magazine Reporter and the daily Blic.
The police investigators invoked two Milosovic-era laws.
The 3rd Municipal Prosecutor’s Office began investigating Reporter the day after its November 21 edition went on sale, local sources reported. The investigation was apparently triggered by an article listing the names of Yugoslav police officials that the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is investigating for their alleged complicity in war crimes in Kosovo.
On Friday, November 23, two police investigators made an unannounced visit to Reporter‘s office to question editor-in-chief Vladimir Radomirovic and journalist Jovica Krtinic, author of the article in question. Later that day, investigators also questioned Veselin Simonovic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade-daily Blic, which ran Reporter‘s list in its November 22 edition.
“These investigations are wholly inappropriate,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Reporting on war crimes issues is at the very heart of the democratic reforms that Yugoslav and Serbian authorities have publicly embraced.”
Reformists recall Milosevic-era tactics
The two police investigators who questioned Radomirovic and Krtinic invoked two Milosevic-era laws in an attempt to pressure the journalists into divulging their sources for the war crimes list. Article 218 of the Serbian Criminal Code proscribes “spreading false information” and was used to imprison several Serbian journalists in the late 1990s. The journalists were also threatened with prosecution under Serbia’s notorious Public Information Law, which was in fact repealed last Febuary.
“We stand behind the story that the list is accurate,” Radomirovic said Friday, according to the Belgrade daily Danas. “We expect further steps from the government and are ready for anything.”
Journalists could be sued for reports
On Sunday night, Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic claimed that Reporter had published the war crimes list in order to “…upset the police, and turn them against the government,” Belgrade’s Radio B92 reported. That same day, the prime minister’s Democratic Party issued a statement encouraging police officers named in Reporter‘s list to sue the publication for damages.