Dear Prime Minister Kostunica:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply dismayed by the Serbian Interior Ministry’s failure to promptly respond to a credible death threat made against Grujica Spasovic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade-based independent daily Danas (Today). An anonymous telephone threat was made to the newspaper on June 11 after Danas reported that your government has identified the town where indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic is hiding. We call on you to ensure that the threat is thoroughly investigated and that appropriate protection is provided to Spasovic.
The threat stems from a June 10 Danas article headlined “Mladic Located,” which said your government has located Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander who has been indicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The article said that your government knew of Mladic’s whereabouts and was deliberating how to apprehend him. The article relied on an unnamed source and reported only that Mladic was residing in one of the larger towns in central Serbia.
Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic denied media reports about Mladic’s whereabouts, the Belgrade-based independent radio station B92 reported later that day. Danas said it stood by its story. Spasovic told CPJ in a telephone interview that two police officers visited Danas that day, asking him and Danas Director Radivoj Cveticanin to reveal the source for the report. The editor and director refused to do so.
On June 11, a day after the article was published, a man identifying himself as “personal security of General Ratko Mladic from Republika Srpska” called the Danas newsroom and asked to speak with Spasovic, the paper reported in its next edition, on June 13. According to a transcript of the call published in Danas, the caller said: “Pass him [Spasovic] the message: From today on, he is dead. We will kill him, cut his head off, legs and arms, for what he wrote … published about General Mladic.” Spasovic told CPJ that he has received numerous threats during his 20-year career, but this one left him especially concerned for his safety.
On June 13, Danas Director Radivoj Cveticanin sent an official request to the Interior Ministry, asking it to investigate the threat and provide protection for Spasovic and his family. The Interior Ministry did not respond for seven days. On June 20, the Interior Ministry invited Spasovic to give a statement regarding the threat. He gave a statement at the Belgrade branch of the Interior Ministry the next day, but police did not offer protection to him or his family.
Today, a police officer delivered a letter to Spasovic signed by Interior Minister Jocic, criticizing a June 21 article published in Danas. Jocic referred to the threat against Spasovic and said: “As for Danas editor-in-chief, along with a promise that the case of threats against him will be investigated and hopefully resolved, we friendly suggest to him, really, to find a bodyguard, but for [his] mental state, [a guard] who would save him from publishing nonsensical materials.”
We are gravely concerned for Grujica Spasovic’s safety and disturbed by the ministry’s response. A failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate a death threat–made in the name of an indicted war criminal–would send a chilling message that your government is indifferent to the intimidation of the independent media. Journalists’ fears are compounded by the failure of Serbian authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 1999 fatal shooting of Belgrade editor Slavko Curuvija, and the 2001 beating death of Jagodina reporter Milan Pantic, both of which are stain on your government’s credibility and Serbia’s international image.
We further urge you to ensure that authorities respect journalists’ right to protect their sources and do not pressure them to reveal such information.
Thank you for your attention regarding this urgent matter. We await your reply.