CPJ Alarmed by Crackdown on Indpendent Press in Yugoslavia

A letter to the Contact Group, UN, EU, et al.

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October 13, 1998

 

To the member states of the Contact Group,
EU foreign ministers, the OSCE, ODIHR,
and the U.N. Security Council

 

Your Excellencies:

 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is profoundly alarmed by the escalating government crackdown on the independent media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and we urge all of you to offer the strongest possible support to the country's besieged journalists.

Even as the Serb government offered concessions aimed at averting air strikes by the NATO alliance this week, it has stepped up its threats against independent media outlets and begun to make good on them. On October 8, under the guise of a "temporary decree," the government issued new censorship measures. The decree bans any coverage deemed "unpatriotic," and forbids any reporting that, in the government's view, foments "defeatism, panic and fear" among citizens in the face of possible Western military intervention over Kosovo. It authorizes the ministry to close news media after a single warning, and bans the rebroadcasting of programs from foreign news media, including the British Broadcasting Company, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America.

Since the decree went into effect, the Serbian Information Ministry has taken the following actions:

Two independent radio stations -- the university student-run Radio Index, and Radio Senta, a bilingual station near the Hungarian border -- were taken off the air over the weekend in retaliation for their criticism of the media crackdown.

The ministry today ordered the temporary closure of the independent Belgrade dailies Danas and Dnevni Telegraf. Police seized the Danas' computers and confiscated the entire print run of its October 14 edition. The ministry said the ban on the papers would remain in effect for the life of the decree. This followed their first and only official warnings on October 12.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a reporter with the independent Vreme weekly, was threatened last week with criminal prosecution for his coverage of war crimes in Kosovo.

The independent daily Nasa Borba was given an official warning on October 12.

Serb leaders have taken these actions after issuing a series of escalating threats of reprisals against independent journalists -- ranging from threatened abductions to promises of closures -- should NATO carry out air strikes. The independent media in Yugoslavia feel abandoned, and extremely vulnerable to continued attacks by the Serb government.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the universally recognized rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ vigorously condemns the Serbian regime's use of the independent media as pawns in their perilous game with the Western alliance over Kosovo. CPJ is concerned that, in their effort to win concessions to end the Kosovo conflict, the Western powers will overlook the destructive impact of the crackdown on independent media, which are key to any hopes for democratic change in the country.

We urge all of you to condemn the crackdown, and to call on the Serb government to honor its international obligations to ensure freedom of expression. In addition, Western powers must make clear to the Serb government that any plan implemented to resolve the Kosovo crisis must include ironclad guarantees of freedom of expression for Yugoslavia's media.

 

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director