CPJ Alarmed by Threats to Independent Journalists in Serbia

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October 2, 1998

 

His Excellency Slobodan Milosevic
President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

 

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by two recent events: Serbian officials' threats of retaliation against independent journalists, and the Yugoslav government's denial of visas to international participants of a conference on independent broadcasting, an action that forced the conference's postponement.

Top Serbian government officials and a leading pro-government legislator used a session of the Serbian parliament on September 30 to warn independent media and other critics of the regime that they would be targeted for reprisal in the event of a NATO air strike against Yugoslavia. "The Americans found their fifth column here," charged Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. "It is composed of politically irrelevant parties and independent media. We can't shoot down every NATO plane, but we can grab those agents who are at hand," he said. Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic accused the independent media of spreading lies and fear, while lawmaker Zeljko Simic charged the journalists with "high treason" for aiding Albanian separatists by reporting on the war in Kosovo. Members of the Association of Independent Broadcasters, ANEM, fear that the Yugoslav authorities will use any NATO military intervention over Kosovo as an excuse to crackdown on the independent media in the country.

In the second above-mentioned matter, the Yugoslav government refused to issue visas to international participants of a Council of Europe-sponsored conference on independent broadcasting that was scheduled for October 2 and 3 in Belgrade. Officials claimed they were not obligated to give entry to foreigners invited to a private event organized by ANEM. The move forced ANEM to postpone the conference, and prompted Council of Europe Chairman Giorgos Papandreou to cancel his trip to Belgrade to preside over the event.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the universally recognized rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests the Serbian officials' threats against independent journalists in Yugoslavia, as well as the government's deliberate interference in their activities. These acts violate all international norms of free expression and press freedom, especially the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantee the rights of journalists to freely and safely practice their profession. We believe these tactics only serve to further isolate your government internationally, in the face of your professed desire to join the Council of Europe. We remind you of your pledges to ensure the safety of journalists and respect the rights of independent media to work without government interference.

Thank you for your attention. We await your comments.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director



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