Journalist arrested; facing extradition to UN war crimes tribunal

New York, October 7, 2005—A Croatian journalist was arrested Thursday and faces extradition to the Hague-based United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after being accused of identifying a protected witness and failing to appear at a hearing on a contempt of court charge.

Croatian police in the southern city of Split arrested Josip Jovic, the former editor-in-chief of the Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija, acting on a September 28 arrest warrant issued by the Tribunal, according to local press reports.

Jovic’s lawyer Vinko Ljubicic said the journalist was being held at the Split district prison and that “we will submit an appeal as soon as possible,” the state news agency HINA reported. The Tribunal issued the arrest warrant after Jovic failed to appear for a September 26 hearing to enter a plea on a contempt of court charge.

The case stems from indictments issued by the Tribunal in April and September against five journalists and a former intelligence officer for identifying a witness who testified against indicted war criminal Tihomir Blaskic in 1997. The Tribunal had issued a number of gag orders barring news organizations from identifying the witness or publishing the witness’ testimony. It alleges that the journalists repeatedly defied the gag orders by publishing the identity and testimony.

Four of the journalists have appeared at Tribunal hearings to enter not guilty pleas, saying the material they published was of public interest and the witness’ identity had already been made public. Jovic insisted he did nothing wrong and refused to attend a September 26 hearing to enter a plea.

The journalists point out that the protected witness’ identity was disclosed in a 1997 Tribunal ruling posted on the Tribunal’s Web site. In the 1997 ruling, which was still posted on the site on Friday, the Tribunal identified the witness by name and ruled that the witness’ identity should be protected.

The journalists also say that other Croatian media outlets reported the witness’ identity. They face up to seven years in prison and 100,000 euros (US$121,000) in fines if found guilty.

The Tribunal unsealed indictments against three of the journalists on April 27. They are: Ivica Marijacic, editor-in-chief of the Zagreb-based weekly Hrvatski List; Stjepan Seselj, publisher of the Zagreb-based weekly Hrvatsko Slovo; and Hrvatsko Slovo editor Domagoj Margetic. The indictments of the two others were unsealed on September 9. They are: Jovic and Marijan Krizic, editor-in-chief of Hrvatsko Slovo.

The journalists were indicted under Rules of Procedure and Evidence 77 A (ii), which authorizes the court to “hold in contempt those who knowingly and willfully interfere with its administration of justice, including any persons who … disclose information relating to those proceedings in knowing violation of an order of a Chamber.”

The Tribunal grants protected witness status to some individuals in an effort to shield them from retaliation for testifying against indicted war criminals. Some protected witnesses have received death threats from supporters of indicted war criminals after being identified in the media.

“Court-imposed gag orders on news organizations are very troubling, and there are unanswered questions about the Tribunal’s actions,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “For example, it’s puzzling why the Tribunal would take legal action against journalists for revealing information that the Tribunal itself has made publicly available. We are closely monitoring how the Tribunal handles these cases.”