New York, February 2, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a Serbian court of appeals decision announced on Friday to acquit those involved in the 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija and called on Serbian authorities to continue taking steps to bring the killers to justice.
“The acquittal of the former members of the Serbian security service who were earlier convicted for their role in the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija is a huge blow to justice and to all those who worked tirelessly for decades to end impunity in the killing,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “It sends a chilling message to the already throttled media community in Serbia that journalist killings will go unpunished. We call on the Serbian authorities to ensure that all those involved in the murder of Ćuruvija are brought to justice.”
The five-judge panel of the Court of Appeal ruled to fully acquit four former members of the state security service convicted of the murder of Ćuruvija, according to a February 2 statement of the court and media reports. Independent news outlet Balkan Insight reported that the verdict was made in April 2023, but only published on Friday.
The verdict cannot be appealed, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Ćuruvija, 51, owner of Serbia’s first private daily Dnevni Telegraf and the weekly magazine Evropljanin, was shot and killed on April 11, 1999, outside his home near the Yugoslav Parliament building. Ćuruvija was an outspoken critic of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.
In December 2021, the Higher Court in Belgrade convicted four former Serbian state security officers for their role in the killing. The former head of Serbian state security, Radomir Marković, and security service officer Milan Radonjić each received 30-year prison sentences, while secret service agents Ratko Romić and Miroslav Kurak were sentenced to 20 years.
The indictment said at the time that Marković abetted the crime, while Romić, Radonjić, and Kurak helped organize and execute the murder, which was ordered by an “unknown person.”
The ruling was later appealed and overturned on July 15, 2020, by the Belgrade Appeals Court, which ruled that the previous verdicts violated the country’s criminal procedure provisions and ordered a retrial.
A February 2, 2024, statement by the court said that “The Court of Appeals—in the absence of direct and indirect evidence that would reliably confirm that the defendants Markovic, Radonjic, Kurak and Romic, the perpetrators of this criminal act—finds that the allegations of the accusation have not been proven beyond a doubt.”
The journalist’s daughter, Jelena Ćuruvija Đurica, told Cenzolovka, an independent website that tracks press freedom violations, that she was “shocked” by the “scandalous verdict.” “It sends a clear, frightening message to all journalists and all people who fight for freedom of speech,” Đurica said.
Ćuruvija was persecuted by Serbian authorities for his journalistic work, according to CPJ research.