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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Serbia and Montenegro

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Serbia and Montenegro, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566efc.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political paralysis consumed Serbia for much of 2004. Conservative reformists and ultranationalists argued over the bloody legacy of former President Slobodan Milosevic and refused to extradite Serbs indicted for war crimes to The Hague-based U.N. -tribunal. Amid a chaotic and polarized atmosphere, journalists were vulnerable to -intimidation from politicians, government agencies, businessmen, accused war criminals, and organized crime.

In April, the bodyguard of Investment Minister Velimir Ilic beat Radislav Rodic, owner of the Belgrade dailies Glas Javnosti (Voice of the Public) and Kurir (Courier), in a parking lot. The attack came several days after Ilic had threatened the editor of Kurir, according to local press reports. Kurir had recently criticized the minister's investment policies.

Reformist Boris Tadic was elected president of Serbia in June, narrowly defeating a candidate from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which dominates Parliament and routinely threatens journalists who do not support its ultranationalist platform. However, the SRS and Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia made a strong showing in September local elections after independent and public radio and television stations were pressured to provide positive coverage of the parties' politicians, the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media reported. Once the nationalists took office, many appointed political loyalists as editors and executives at publicly funded media outlets.

Widespread support for the nationalists allowed war crime defendants and unreformed military and security agencies to retain great influence, making it particularly dangerous for journalists to investigate abuses committed by Serbian forces during the 1990s. In March, military police detained author Vladan Vlajkovic for a month and confiscated 250 copies of his book Vojna tajna (Military Secret), claiming that his account of war crimes in Kosovo contained state secrets, according to international press reports.

In June, unidentified men broke into the Belgrade apartment of author Svetlana Djordjevic, forced her to drink an unknown liquid, injected her with an unknown substance, and demanded that she publicly renounce her work on human rights abuses in Kosovo, according to press reports. Djordjevic, who recovered after the attackers left her unconscious, did not renounce her work. She had begun receiving death threats after the July 2003 publication of her book, Svedocanstvo o Kosovo (Testimonies About Kosovo), which details abuses by Serbian police.

Serbian courts also discouraged reporting on government abuses. Two journalists were convicted under outdated criminal libel laws, although neither served prison sentences. A court in the western city of Sabac sentenced Hanibal Kovac, a correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, to a two-month suspended prison sentence in April for a story on a politician who confiscated a building in 1997. A month later, a court in the northern city of Novi Sad sentenced Ljiljana Jokic-Kaspar of the independent daily Gradjanski List (Citizen's Newspaper) to a six-month suspended term for reporting that a medical officer with the special police also served as a sniper in the unit.

Impunity in the murders of journalists remained a major problem in 2004. Police and prosecutors reported no progress in solving the June 2002 murder of Milan Pantic, a crime reporter for the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti (Evening News), or the April 1999 assassination of Slavko Curuvija, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Dnevni Telegraf (Daily Telegraph).

In April, the Interior Ministry announced the formation of a special police unit to probe the Pantic and Curuvija cases, as well as two other high-profile murders. Although the Interior Ministry publicly claimed that it had no evidence in the Curuvija case, former Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that an eyewitness had come forward and that police had identified several suspects, according to local press reports.

The Serbian government retained significant influence over national television stations, the main source of news for most of the country. The government appointed controversial journalist and one-time Milosevic Information Minister Aleksandar Tijanic as director of the state broadcaster Radio Television Serbia (RTS) in March. Little progress was reported in turning RTS into an independent public broadcasting service.

Private, pro-government television stations benefited from a politicized regulatory environment that allowed them to retain the national broadcasting licenses they had gained without due process during Milosevic's rule. For their loyalty, these stations enjoyed government perks; BK TV, for instance, was allowed to broadcast its programming on 40 powerful military transmitters spread throughout the country.

Despite protests from Serbian journalists organizations, Parliament revised the Broadcasting Law to give legislators greater control over membership of the influential Broadcasting Council, which is responsible for allocating broadcasting licenses.

In the southern province of Kosovo – administered by the United Nations since the NATO air war against Serbia in 1999 – journalists worked in a lawless, politically polarized environment in which an ethnic Albanian majority is seeking independence and an ethnic Serb minority is seeking reintegration with Serbia.

In March, international officials blamed sensationalist news for sparking two days of rioting by Albanian mobs against Serb enclaves. Local journalists countered that they were being blamed for U.N. policies that exacerbated tensions, and for the failure of NATO peacekeepers to protect Serbs during the riots.

Self-censorship remains widespread in Kosovo, with politicians, businessmen, and former guerrilla commanders using threats and intimidation to silence critical reporting. In September, an unidentified gunman shot Fatmire Terdevci, a reporter for the independent daily Koha Ditore (Daily Times), while she was driving near Pristina. Terdevci, who specializes in official corruption and organized crime, survived the shooting, which local journalists believe may have come in retaliation for her work.

Journalists in the southern coastal republic of Montenegro also work in a politically charged climate. The population is deeply divided over whether to break away from Serbia in 2005 and try to join the European Union.

The May 28 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan, (Day) in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, sent a shock wave through the journalism community, which has rarely faced violence since the brutal wars in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the 1990s. Jovanovic had received death threats prior to his murder and faced numerous lawsuits for accusing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic of links to tobacco smuggling and sex trafficking.

A suspect in his murder went on trial in the fall, but the editor's family and colleagues criticized police for failing to identify accomplices who may have ordered the killing or to probe possible links to Montenegrin authorities.

Political parties and government officials in Montenegro encourage self-censorship by pressuring editors and journalists who report on sensitive issues. Veseljko Koprivica, news editor at the independent weekly Monitor, received numerous threats for reporting on drug trafficking, the Serbian Orthodox church, and Montenegro's role in the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik in neighboring Croatia.

The influential state broadcaster, Radio and Television Montenegro, remained heavily dependent on government financing and guidance. Promised reforms that would insulate the broadcaster from political influence have been slow to take effect.


2004 Documented Cases – Serbia and Montenegro

MARCH 16, 2004
Posted: April 7, 2004

Hanibal Kovac, RFE/RL
LEGAL ACTION

Kovac, a correspondent for the South Slavic Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who is based in the western Serbian city of Sabac, was convicted of criminal defamation and given a two-month suspended prison sentence by a Sabac city court.

Cedomir Vasiljevic, a local businessman who was a minister in former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's government (from 1997 to 2000) and is currently a senior official in the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, sued Kovac for criminal libel in response to Kovac's report for RFE/RL's South Slavic Service and Albanian Language Service that aired on September 2, 2003.

The report described the alleged takeover of an administrative building in Sabac by Vasiljevic and his armed guards in July 1999. The building hosted several local businesses and the headquarters of an opposition party. The occupants of the building were evicted forcefully, seven of them were beaten, Dragan Stavljanin, editor of the Serbia and Montenegro branch of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, told CPJ.

Following the seizure of the building, RFE/RL reported that Vasiljevic claimed the building and registered it in his name.

In his September 2, 2003, broadcast, Kovac interviewed several people allegedly beaten during the eviction. They said on the air that following the eviction they tried to file lawsuits against Vasiljevic but the Sabac city court refused to consider their complaints for fear of Vasiljevic's powerful position in town, RFE/RL reported.

The presiding judge at Kovac's trial, Ivica Lazarevic, is a close associate of Vasiljevic's. Kovac had previously criticized the nepotism of the Sabac courts in his broadcasts, RFE/RL said.

MARCH 27, 2004
Posted: March 30, 2004

Radio Television B92
THREATENED

A hand grenade was discovered beneath the company vehicle of the Belgrade-based independent Radio Television B92 at around noon.

B92's five-member television crew had just finished covering riots near Kosovo's capital, Pristina, and had parked their vehicle, which contained the crew's technical equipment, close to the local police station in the southern Serbian city of Raska, along the Kosovo border. As soon as B92's technician noticed the grenade underneath the vehicle, the crew called the Raska police, according to a member of B92's reporting team.

According to B92 Editor-in-Chief Veran Matic, the station had received anonymous bomb threats several days before the incident. As a result, the crew had parked near the Raska police station for safety reasons.

According to B92, the station regularly receives threats from radical Serbian nationalists who are displeased by the station's reporting.

The Raska police removed the grenade immediately after B92's technician reported to them. However, the police did not take any fingerprints, handled the grenade with bare hands, and did not secure the crime scene, a B92 crewmember told CPJ.

In a letter to the Serbian Interior Ministry dated March 30, Matic urged to investigate the incident thoroughly.

B92 is known for its outspoken criticism of attempts by the government and nationalist politicians to silence independent journalists who criticize government policies.

MAY 28, 2004
Posted: June 7, 2004

Dusko Jovanovic, Dan
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Jovanovic, the controversial publisher and editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan, was killed in a drive-by shooting in the early morning while he was leaving his office in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, according to local and international news reports.

Unidentified assailants used an automatic rifle to shoot Jovanovic in the head and chest just after midnight as he was getting into his car.

Jovanovic was rushed to the Clinical Center in Podgorica and died several hours after undergoing surgery, according to an article posted on Dan's Web site.

Dan Assistant Editor Danilo Vukovic told CPJ that Jovanovic had received a letter with a vague threat about a month ago. Investigative judge Radomir Ivanovic and police officers are currently investigating the murder, according to local press reports.

Dan is closely tied to the Socialist People's Party, which supported former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic throughout the 1990s and has faced numerous lawsuits for criticizing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and his ruling coalition government.

Djukanovic filed a libel lawsuit against Jovanovic in April for published articles linking the prime minister to a human trafficking scandal. A court hearing was set for June, Vukovic told CPJ.

In June 2002, a court in Podgorica ordered Jovanovic to pay 15,000 Euros (US$18,300) in damages to Djukanovic, who was Montenegro's president at the time, after Dan republished articles from a Croatian newspaper linking Djukanovic to tobacco smuggling in the Balkans, the Podgorica-based news agency Mina reported.

Jovanovic was the first journalist to be prosecuted by the Hague-based U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after his newspaper published an August 2002 story revealing the identity of a protected witness.

Protected witness K-32 testified against Milosevic, who is being tried by the ICTY for war crimes. The witness received threatening phone calls after Dan revealed his identity. In April 2003, the tribunal charged Jovanovic with contempt of court, and he faced up to seven years in jail and/or a fine of up to US$106,000.

Jovanovic publicly apologized for revealing the witness's identity in a March 2004 article published in Dan, and the tribunal dropped its charges against the editor the following month, The Associated Press reported.

In addition to his journalistic work, Jovanovic was also active in business and politics. The motive for his killing remains unclear.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2004
Posted: September 27, 2004

Fatmire Terdevci, Koha Ditore
ATTACKED

Terdevci, an investigative reporter with the Kosovo independent daily Koha Ditore, was shot and wounded, according to The Associated Press and local CPJ sources.

The journalist, 30, was traveling from Glogovac, a small town in central Kosovo, to the capital, Pristina, in a car belonging to the Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas. At around 7:30 p.m., at least one assailant shot and wounded her in the left arm, Nafer Miftari, deputy editor of Koha Ditore told CPJ. She was not on an assignment at the time.

Two bullets were fired from behind; one went through the car's windshield, and the other hit Terdevci. Her brother and a Caritas worker were also in the car, but only Terdevci was wounded, Miftari said.

Terdevci was treated overnight at the Pristina Central Hospital and was released this morning. Her condition is stable, Miftari told CPJ.

"Terdevci is one of our best investigative reporters," Baton Haxhiu, executive director of the Kosovo Journalists' Association, told CPJ. "She oftentimes writes on sensitive subjects." However, Haxhiu would not speculate about the possible motive for the attack.

Miftari told CPJ that Terdevci usually writes about official corruption, smuggling of goods over the Kosovo-Montenegro border, and organized crime in Kosovo.

U.N. police are currently investigating the incident.

The predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo remains part of Serbia and Montenegro but has been run by a temporary U.N. administration since June 1999.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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