For Immediate Release
14 June 1996
Contact: Catherine Fitzpatrick
Phone: (212)465-9344, x101
CPJ Presents Brief on Behalf of Croatian Journalists; Feral Tribune Trial AdjournedZagreb--A criminal trial against Feral Tribune journalists accused of defaming President Franjo Tudjman in a satirical article was unexpectedly adjourned on its opening day, a move hailed by observers as a victory for the defense and a response to the international outcry over President Tudjman's efforts to muzzle Croatia's independent media.
The trial is now scheduled to resume on Sept. 25, the judge announced. The defendants face up to three years in jail if convicted.
After reading the indictment and hearing the opening defense statements, the judge adjourned the trial until September in order, he said, to call new witnesses.
CPJ board member James C. Goodale, an attorney and expert on press freedom issues, 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 the Committee characterized as "fundamentally antithetical to the values of a democratic society." The judge did not agree to enter the brief into the record, stating that 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.
The charges against Viktor Ivancic, the editor in chief of the satiric newspaper Feral Tribune, and Marinko Culic, a reporter with the weekly, stem from an April 29 article criticizing the president's proposal to rebury the remains of World War II Fascists alongside their victims. This is the first application of a law passed by the Croatian Parliament on March 29 which effectively criminalizes any critical reporting or satirical commentary on the president, the prime minister, the parliament speaker or the chief magistrates of the supreme and constitutional courts.
The Media in Croatia
A Chronology of Attacks Documented and Protested by CPJ
March 22, 1995: Responding to an appeal on behalf of the independent weekly newspaper Feral Tribune, the Croatian Constitutional Court finally withdraws a 50 percent sales tax on the paper. The tax, usually levied only on pornographic publications, had been in effect since July 1, 1994.
Aug. 11, 1995: The Croatian government takes away the frequency of Radio LAE, known for its opposition to the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and turns it over to a government company, FFI Commerce. FFI Commerce is said to have connections with HDZ and President Tudjman.
March 29, 1996: The Croatian Parliament passes into law two amendments to the Penal Code that threaten press freedom. One, a seditious libel law, authorizes the public prosecutor to start legal proceedings against anyone who has offended or slandered the president, the parliament speaker, the prime minister or the presidents of the supreme and constitutional courts. Earlier legislation required the public figures themselves to file charges against individuals for slander or offense. Under the new law, the government leaders need only consent to charges brought by the public prosecutor.
The second law makes it a criminal act to divulge classified information "vital to state interests," though such state secrets are left largely undefined.
*Note: President Tudjman did not have to approve the laws before they took effect, as previously reported. The amendments only needed to be signed into law by the president. This "act of promulgation" is only a formality, not comparable to a veto, and the law can only be abolished by an act of parliament.
April 7, 1996: The Croatian government imposes a US$2.5 million fine on the independent daily Novi List for its alleged use of printing equipment from Italy, which the government claims is reserved for Italian-language newspapers in Croatia. On May 10, the Croatian Minister of Finance decides to suspend the fine, although by law Novi List must first pay the penalty and then follow with an appeal. Novi List's editor in chief, however, is optimistic that the fine against the newspaper will be suspended indefinitely.
April 12, 1996: The two new amendments to the Penal Code, which were passed by parliament on March 29 and signed by the president, are published in the official government newspaper. As per Croatia's procedures, the laws take effect eight days after publication.
April 20, 1996: The two new amendments to the Penal Code passed by Parliament on March 29, 1996, go into effect.
April 25, 1996: Members of the Croatian financial police enter the offices of the weekly independent newspaper Panorama and order all staff to leave within 15 minutes. The police proceed to lock all the offices and charge the newspaper with violating "ecological" standards. The offices are reopened on May 10 after CPJ and others protest the shut-down.
April 29, 1996: The Feral Tribune publishes an article by Marinko Culic entitled "Bones in the Mixer." The article is critical of President Tudjman's recommendation to turn a World War II concentration camp in Jasenovac, where thousands of Serbs were killed by Croatian Fascists, into a memorial that would also honor Croats killed under Communist rule in the former Yugoslavia as well as those who died during the 1991 Croatian war against the Serbs. The cover of the Tribune issue in which the article appears displays a cartoon of a skeleton wearing a presidential sash that reads: "We're all going to Jasenovac."
May 3, 1996: Viktor Ivancic, editor in chief of Feral Tribune, is taken to police offices and informed that the general prosecutor of Croatia has brought criminal charges against him and Feral Tribune reporter Marinko Culic for "rudely and falsely slandering" the president under the new "seditious libel" amendment to the Penal Code approved March 29 by the Croatian Parliament. The charges stem from the April 29 Feral Tribune article described above. The journalists face up to three years' imprisonment if convicted.
May 23, 1996: Nevenko Kosutic, the daughter of President Tudjman, files a civil libel suit against Feral Tribune demanding 3.5 million kuna (US$635,000) in damages. Ms. Kosutic claims that the Feral Tribune slandered her by publishing allegations that she set up a prosperous business using government connections. Ms. Kosutic's lawyer later asks the court to order the provisional withdrawal of the money from Feral Tribune's bank account pending a verdict in the suit.
May 30, 1996: Leaders of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) announce that the party intends to sue the weekly independent newspaper Globus for a May 21 article that contends that the ruling party has drafted a list of opposition politicians whom they plan to denounce as public enemies. No legal action has yet been taken.
June 14, 1996 : The first session of the trial of Feral Tribune editor Viktor Ivancic and reporter Marinko Culic on charges of seditious libel opens in Zagreb.
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