|The Committee to Protect Journalists|
330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA
Contact: Catherine Fitzpatrick or Amanda Onion
Phone: (212)465-1004, x 101 or 110
New York: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) hailed today's acquittal of two Croatian journalists who were accused of defaming Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and called for the elimination of Croatia's criminal libel.
"We hope that the verdict in the Feral Tribune trial signals an expansion of press freedom in Croatia," said William A. Orme, Jr., executive director of CPJ. "The next step is to ensure that criminal libel statutes, which are designed to discourage aggressive political journalism are banished from the law books."
Judge Marin Mrcela delivered his verdict at a Zagreb Municipal Court, saying that the offending materials in Feral Tribune were obviously absurd and merely intended to pass judgment on political activity. 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 Tudjman's proposal to rebury the remains of World War II Fascists alongside their victims. This was 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.
"Such laws have no place in any country, and are especially to be condemned in a self-proclaimed democracy such as Croatia," noted CPJ in a legal brief presented to the court. "No journalist in any Western democracy is in prison as a result of a conviction of seditious libel."
Adjourned June 24, the criminal trial against the Feral Tribune journalists reopened yesterday. The defendants faced up to three years in jail had they been convicted.
At least two more cases are pending against two other newspapers, Novi List and Nacional for charges under the same criminal code articles applied in the Feral Tribune case. CPJ has protested the charges against these newspapers and continues to call for the elimination of the articles from the Croatian Criminal Code.