International Press Freedom Awards


VIKTOR IVANCIC is the editor in chief of Feral Tribune, a weekly newspaper based in the Croatian city of Split that has enraged President Franjo Tudjman for its independent news coverage, biting lampoons, and satirical political cartoons. In 1996, Ivancic and reporter Marinko Cucic were indicted on charges of seditious libel for an article titled "Bones in the Mixer," which criticized Tudjman's plans to inter soldiers of the World War II Croatian Fascist regime alongside their Serb, Jewish, Roma, and Croat victims buried at the site of a former concentration camp. The criminal charges were brought under new amendments to the penal code that made libeling the president a crime punishable by six months to three years in prison.

CPJ's board member James Goodale, a noted First Amendment attorney, traveled to Zagreb to present an amicus brief in support of the defendants. In June 1996, the two journalists were acquitted in a victory praised by international and local press freedom advocates as a tribute to the protest generated against the Croatian government's crackdown. The Croatian government appealed the aquittal, however, and this May the County Court overturned the decision to acquit. A new trial on the same charges will be held. The feisty and irreverent Feral Tribune also faces a daunting array of other lawsuits. Tudjman's daughter, Nevenka Kosutic, has filed two libel suits against the paper for exposing her commercial activities. Ivancic faces dozens of other libel suits and harassment charges made against the editors. He has been slapped with spurious taxes and fines, and castigated in official speeches as being the product of "anarchists and heretics" under "foreign influence." Feral Tribune news vendors have been attacked and pro-government thugs burned bundles of the newspaper in the town square.

But an even greater danger emerged recently when Ivancic and Feral Tribune staff received numerous death threats in response to the newspaper's bold publication on Sept. 1 of an interview with a former Croatian policeman who confessed to murdering scores of ethnic Serbs during Croatia's war for independence. The confession and the subsequent international attention it received spotlighted the four-year-old Feral Tribune, one of the boldest papers in Eastern Europe, and its much-needed function as one of a handful of national newspapers outside state control that dare to report on developments generally ignored by the official press.



May 3, 1996

Viktor Ivancic, Feral Tribune LEGAL ACTION
Marinko Culic, Feral Tribune LEGAL ACTION

Ivancic, editor in chief of the independent weekly newspaper Feral Tribune, was taken to a police station in Split and informed that a criminal case had been opened against him and Culic, a Feral Tribune reporter. They were charged with slandering President Franjo Tudjman in the April 29 issue of the paper.

The charges were in connection with an article titled "Bones in the Mixer," and a photomontage, labeled "Jasenovac: The Biggest Croatian Underground City." The article criticized the president's proposal to rebury the remains of World War II Fascists alongside their victims. This case was the first to be brought under legislation passed on March 29 that effectively criminalizes any critical reporting or satirical commentary on five top officials. The legislation allows for punishment of up to three years in prison for those convicted. In a letter to President Tudjman, CPJ urged that the charges against Ivancic and Culic be dismissed.

On June 14, the criminal trial of the Feral Tribune journalists was unexpectedly adjourned on its opening days apparently in response to the international outcry over President Tudjman's efforts to muzzle Croatia's independent media.

The judge scheduled the trial to resume on Sept. 25, in order, he said, to call new witnesses. CPJ board member James C. Goodale, who traveled to Zagreb to show support for the journalists, presented the judge with a legal brief prepared at the request of defense counsel. The CPJ brief condemned the prosecution as an example of seditious libel, a legal concept that runs counter to the standards for press freedom in democratic societies. The judge explained that he could not enter the brief into the record because the Croatian legal system had no procedures for filing such documents. But he did agree to meet with Goodale at a future date to hear CPJ's concerns. After the hearing, Goodale and other representatives from press freedom groups and local NGOs held a public meeting and press conference where they denounced the statutes used to prosecute the journalists, citing international practice regarding criminal libel.

On Sept. 25, the criminal trial resumed for the Feral Tribune journalists. On Sept. 26, the judge acquitted both Ivancic and Culic of all charges. In a press release following the verdict, CPJ hailed the decision as a victory for press freedom in Croatia, but called again for the elimination of the legislation that was used against Ivancic and Culic and is now being used against other journalists.

May 29, 1997

Heni Erceg, Feral Tribune HARASSED
Viktor Ivancic, Feral Tribune LEGAL ACTION
Marinko Culic, Feral Tribune LEGAL ACTION

Interior Ministry investigators went to the home of Feral Tribune editor Heni Erceg, questioning her about the newspaper's staff. At the same time, two police officers appeared at the newspaper's office with a warrant to obtain information about another Feral Tribune journalist. The investigators asked about the size of the newspaper's staff, their whereabouts, how they communicate with each other, whether Erceg traveled abroad, how often, and for what purpose. The police inspectors tried to question another editor, but he was not at home. The investigation followed other legal actions"both criminal and civil"designed to harass the independent weekly.

Ivancic and Culic, who were acquitted of criminal libel charges by the Zagreb Municipal Court on September 26, 1996, now face another trial on charges of slandering President Franjo Tudjman since an appeals court on May 5 overturned that acquittal. The new trial"on the same charges of insulting the president in an article titled "Bones in the Mixers" expected to begin in the fall. The defendants have said they would not appear in court.

Feral Tribune also faces as much as $3 million in possible fines from pending civil libel suits.

July 2, 1996

"Slikom na Sliku" CENSORED

The editor of the television news program "Slikom na Sliku" (Frame by Frame) told CPJ that he had been informed by officials at the government television channel HTV, Croatia's only nationwide channel, that HTV would no longer air the popular program. No explanation was given for the program's cancellation. CPJ wrote to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, urging him to allow "Slikom na Sliku" to continue broadcasting.

 The show, which began running in January 1992 and aired five times a week, was a 45-minute program containing interviews with prominent newsmakers and broadcasts from abroad. It was the only television news program in Croatia to cover the June trial of Feral Tribune journalists Viktor Ivancic and Marinko Culic, who were charged with slandering President Franjo Tudjman. In April, CPJ's chair, Kati Marton, appeared on the program to discuss press freedom issues in Croatia.

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