Attacks on the Press 2001: Slovenia

While press freedom is generally respected in Slovenia, a brutal attack against one journalist and the potential prosecution of another have raised some concerns about the government’s commitment to protecting the press.

Miro Petek, a journalist for the Maribor daily Vecer, Slovenia’s second-largest newspaper, was attacked outside his home in the small town of Mezica on the evening of February 28 by two unknown men. Petek sustained severe skull fractures and spent five months recovering from the nearly fatal attack.

Local sources and press reports linked the attack to an investigation into financial irregularities in the business partnership between a local company and a bank that Petek had been pursuing for more than a year. President Milan Kucan denounced the attack, and an inquiry was launched under the supervision of the National Police. However, police investigators chose to focus their attention on the personal lives of Petek and his associates.

Grega Repovz, President of the Slovenian Journalistic Society, told CPJ that local investigators had identified two suspects, but that the National Police had not detained them. Repovz did not know why the investigation was moving so slowly, but he said, “The lack of progress…has definitely caused self-censorship [among journalists] in the Koroska region where Petek lives and works.”

The second case involved Blaz Zgaga, an investigative journalist who also works for Vecer. On June 10, 2000, Vecer published an article by Zgaga questioning the legality of a joint intelligence operation conducted by the Slovenian Ministry of Defense’s Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Zgaga had obtained a secret document revealing that the DIA had used OVS agents in Yugoslavia to gather intelligence for the U.S. military during the NATO air war against Yugoslavia in 1999.

Following the article’s publication, Zgaga was immediately placed under surveillance and his apartment was searched. On October 9, 2000, a formal criminal investigation was launched against Zgaga for revealing military secrets. The investigation was launched at the request of Defense Minister Janez Jansa. Zgaga told CPJ that the court justified the investigation by accusing him of identifying intelligence agents, revealing intelligence methods, and publishing material that could harm the Slovenian armed forces. He faced up to five years in prison.

At a hearing on January 22, 2002, a district court dismissed the case for lack of evidence and ruled that the information in Zgaga’s article was true. The prosecutor has the option to retry the case, though local sources thought that unlikely.