Prosecutor in journalist’s murder case suspended

New York, March 26, 2003—Sinisa Simic, the public prosecutor responsible for the stalled investigation into the April 1999 assassination of Dnevni Telegraf editor-in-chief Slavko Curuvija, has been temporarily suspended of his duties, according to local press reports.

Serbia’s acting president Natasa Micic ordered the suspension on Friday, March 21, amid a government crackdown on judges and prosecutors with suspected links to members of the powerful Zemun mafia clan that allegedly orchestrated the March 12 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Simic was suspended two days after police arrested deputy public prosecutor Milan Sarajlic.

Interior Ministry officials said that, since his detention, Sarajlic has confessed to being on the payroll of the Zemun mafia clan and actively obstructing inquiries into a number of assassinations, including the murder of Curuvija.

Rajko Danilovic, a lawyer representing the Curuvija family, told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview today that “Simic was suspended because he wasn’t careful enough in his supervision of Sarajlic.”

On April 11, 1999, Curuvija was murdered as he and his wife, Branka Prpa, were returning to their home in the Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, after a walk. Two men wearing dark clothing and black face masks approached the couple, pistol-whipped Prpa, and shot Curuvija 11 times.

Months before his assassination, Curuvija had started criticizing the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The shooting took place during the NATO air strikes on Serbia that sought to end repression of ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo—a time the government was trying to reign in critical media outlets.

The first major break in the Curuvija case came in late October 2000 when a State Security Service (RDB) surveillance report that chronicled Curuvija’s movements on the day of his assassination was leaked to the press. According to the report, RDB agents followed Curuvija on April 11 but were ordered to withdraw from their positions just 20 minutes before the journalist was shot dead.

No progress in the case was reported during the last two years.