In Croatia, television journalist receives death threats

New York, March 1, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by anonymous death threats against Robert Valdec, anchor of the popular weekly program “Istraga” (Investigation) on Zagreb’s independent Nova TV. The phone and e-mail messages did not specify the coverage that prompted the intimidation, but local journalists and press freedom advocates believe they came in response to the program’s recent re-enactments of crimes committed in the early 1990s.

“We call on local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and prosecute those responsible for threatening our colleague, Robert Valdec,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Given Croatia’s fragile press freedom, every effort must be made to protect independent journalists from threats and harassment.”

Valdec began receiving death threats several times per week in December 2006, after his program aired segments that re-enacted murders and other crimes committed during the 1991-92 war, Nova TV staff members told CPJ. The journalist received anonymous telephone calls and e-mails threatening to decapitate him. Some of the e-mails described in graphic detail the manner in which Valdec would have his head “taken off” and how he would be “butchered.” Several e-mails were signed by “a Serb from Serbian Vukovar,” a Nova TV staff member told CPJ.

Valdec said he could not identify those responsible for the threats. “Every week our program covers a story someone doesn’t like,” Valdec told CPJ in a telephone interview today. He said that his show has covered organized crime, wrongful imprisonments, and domestic violence. Croatian prosecutors, Valdec said, have followed up on “Istraga” investigative stories, opening several criminal investigations as a result.

Police began investigating the threats in January but have made no arrests. Valdec has continued to receive graphic messages, although they have been less frequent in recent weeks.

CPJ has documented at least two other recent cases in which journalists in Croatia received death threats for reporting on sensitive issues. Drago Hedl, editor of the Split-based independent weekly Feral Tribune, received an anonymous death threat in December 2005 after reporting on the torture and murder of ethnic Serb civilians in the eastern city of Osijek. Slobodna Dalmacija reporter Sasa Jadrijevic Tomas was threatened in 2004 after exposing a government official’s failure to pay child support.