Attacks on the Press 2007: Europe and Central Asia Snapshots

Attacks and developments throughout the region



• On February 9, two unidentified men threatened Politika reporter Mariya Nikolaeva in the newsroom of the Sofia-based weekly. The men warned her not to do follow-up reporting on a piece that alleged improper local government involvement in real estate developments in Strandzha, a mountainous region in the southeast. “You know what happens to female journalists who know a lot: They have acid splashed on them,” one of the men told Nikolaeva–an apparent reference to a 1998 acid attack in which Trud crime reporter Anna Zarkova lost her left eye. Despite the threat, Nikolaeva wrote a follow-up story for Politika‘s February 16 edition. The issue never reached readers in Strandzha: Unknown people bought out the entire regional allotment from the paper’s local distributor in the city of Burgas.

• On February 23, about 100 people led by Ataka party leader Volen Siderov stormed the offices of the newspapers 24 Chasa and 168 Chasa in the capital, Sofia. Siderov was angered by the publication of a financial document that allegedly showed Ataka had received financing from another party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, according to news reports. Nikolai Penchev, editor-in-chief of 168 Chasa, told the Bulgarian press that Ataka party member Kostadin Kostov had threatened him. “We will extract your liver,” Penchev quoted the party member as saying. Editor-in-Chief Venelina Gocheva of 24 Chasa told local reporters that she had assigned security to several of her reporters. Siderov denied he had stormed the building and said he had a right to contest “slanders,” the news Web site Mediapool reported.

back to top


• Robert Valdec, anchor of the popular weekly program “Istraga” (Investigation) on Zagreb’s independent Nova TV, received numerous phone and e-mail death threats from December 2006 to March 2007. The anonymous messages did not specify particular broadcasts, but colleagues believed they were in response to “Istraga” reenactments of crimes committed during the Croatian conflict of the 1990s. The threats against Valdec graphically described the manner in which he was to be executed. “Istraga” is known for its coverage of organized crime, wrongful imprisonments, and domestic violence. Police began investigating the threats against Valdec in January, but no arrests were made.

back to top


• Officers with the Directorate of Territorial Security, a counterespionage agency, searched the Paris home of Guillaume Dasquié, a reporter for the daily Le Monde, and detained the reporter for 48 hours. Magistrate Philippe Coirre filed preliminary charges against Dasquié on December 6, alleging that the reporter had published intelligence secrets related to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The probe stemmed from an April 16 article that said French intelligence agents had warned U.S. counterparts of the terrorist plot, according to international news reports. The article contained excerpts from what Le Monde described as a 328-page classified report. Dasquié faced five years in prison.

back to top


• German prosecutors said in August that a criminal investigation had been launched against 17 journalists from a number of leading national publications, including the Hamburg-based newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Hamburg-based weekly Die Zeit, and the Berlin-based daily Die Welt. The journalists were accused of publishing information from classified documents related to CIA rendition flights and suspected misconduct by German secret service agents in Baghdad during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. A parliamentary committee assembled to examine the alleged misconduct had apparently leaked the documents to the press, according to international press reports. Investigations against the 17 journalists were led by local prosecutors in Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin. By September, the Munich prosecutor’s office had dropped its investigation against journalists with the local Süddeutsche Zeitung, but Berlin and Hamburg prosecutors did not immediately follow suit.

back to top


• On the evening of June 22, unknown assailants abducted investigative journalist Iren Karman in the outskirts of the capital, Budapest, according to international press reports. The assailants pushed Karman into a car, tied her up, and severely beat her before leaving her on the banks of the Danube River, where she was found by a fisherman, the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) reported. Karman was hospitalized for more than a week and underwent surgery for internal bleeding, MTI said. The 40-year-old journalist had recently published a book, Facing the Mafia, detailing illegal oil sales in the 1990s, and was working on a related documentary at the time of the assault. The book describes the practice of “oil bleaching”–removing a characteristic red dye from government-subsidized heating oil in order to sell it as diesel at a higher price. Shortly before the attack, Karman had complained on an Internet blog that she had been receiving e-mail and telephone threats.

back to top


• Police in Dublin detained freelance reporter Mick McCaffrey on February 21 in connection with an August 2006 article in the Dublin-based Evening Herald about police mishandling of a 1997 murder case that led to the jailing of an innocent man. In his article, McCaffrey cited an internal police probe. Detectives pressed McCaffrey to reveal his sources, but he refused, according to the Sunday Times of London. Detectives also seized the reporter’s itemized phone records, the Times said. McCaffrey was released the same day.

back to top


• In April, the neo-Nazi group National Formation made death threats against Dinko Gruhonjic, head of the Vojvodina branch of the independent news agency BETA and chairman of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina. The threats, posted on National Formation’s Web site, stemmed from Gruhonjic’s coverage of the group, the journalist told CPJ. Among other things, the coverage described a 2005 attack in which members armed with crowbars attacked people marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom launched against Jews throughout Germany and parts of Austria in 1938, according to local and international press reports. National Formation leader Goran Davidovic had threatened Gruhonjic in the past, denouncing him as a traitor and an enemy of the Serbian people.

• One of two hand grenades planted on a windowsill outside the bedroom of Dejan Anastasijevic, an investigative reporter and editor for the Belgrade newsweekly Vreme, exploded at around 3 a.m. on April 13, Anastasijevic told CPJ. The explosion caused extensive damage to the journalist’s apartment and several cars parked outside but did not harm Anastasijevic or his wife, who were asleep in the bedroom at the time. In addition to his work as an investigative reporter for Vreme, Anastasijevic had written extensively about torture, abuse, persecution, and harassment of Croats, Muslims, and other non-Serbs during the Bosnia and Croatia wars of the 1990s. Eight former Serbian paramilitaries were briefly detained, but no charges were filed.

• Stefan Cvetkovic, editor-in-chief of the independent broadcaster TNT in Bela Crkva, received anonymous death threats by phone in August. Cvetkovic said he believed the threats could be in response to his station’s coverage of a police scandal. Six months before, TNT broadcast a hidden-camera video showing two Bela Crkva police officers snorting a white powder off a café tabletop. The two officers were later fired, according to the Belgrade-based Association for Independent Electronic Media (ANEM). TNT had also reported on a variety of other sensitive topics, ANEM said, including local corruption and economic and social issues.

• On October 16, an unidentified assailant stormed into the home of Vesna Bojicic, a Serbian-language correspondent for Voice of America, beating and threatening her in connection with her reporting. The attacker cited Bojicic’s purported “bias in favor of Albanians” and said he would kill her and abduct her child if she did not stop reporting, the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media said. Bojicic told VOA she would continue reporting in Kosovo “regardless of what Serbs or Albanians think.” According to local press reports, Bojicic had been attacked previously. Her house was set on fire during ethnic unrest between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority in March 2004.

back to top


• National Court Judge Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia found artist Guillermo Torres and writer Manel Fontdevila guilty of defaming Crown Prince Felipe in a cartoon published in the satirical weekly El Jueves. The judge fined the journalists 3,000 euros (US$4,400) apiece in the November 13 ruling, according to international press reports. The cartoon, which ran on the front page of El Jueves‘ July 18 issue, showed the prince and his wife, Princess Letizia, in a graphic sexual position–an apparent reference to government efforts to boost the birth rate by offering families financial incentives. In July, a judge ordered El Jueves‘ entire 70,000-copy press run taken off newsstands because the cartoon insulted the royal family.

back to top


• On April 17, a Swiss military tribunal in St. Gallen acquitted Christoph Grenacher, editor-in-chief of the Zurich-based weekly SonntagsBlick, and two of his reporters, Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost, on charges of publishing classified intelligence about purported CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, according to international press reports. Swiss prosecutors had charged the journalists in 2006, after SonntagsBlick published the contents of a fax from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to the Egyptian Embassy in London. The fax pointed to the existence of a CIA prison in Romania and suggested there were other such prisons in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Ukraine, according to The Associated Press.