25June97: Harassment of Croatia's Feral Tribune

Catherine Fitzpatrick (europe@ccmail.cpj.org)
Wed, 25 Jun 97 18:26:39 EST

June 25, 1997

His Excellency Franjo Tudjman
President of the Republic of Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia
Fax: 011-385-1-443 075/444 532

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly
condemn the continued legal action and harassment of Croatia's
independent weekly Feral Tribune.

According to a May 29 statement of the Feral Tribune editorial board,
an investigator ofthe Constitutional Order Protection Office of the
Interior Ministry came to the private apartment of the newspaper's
editor, Heni Erceg, ishing to have an "informative talk" with her. At
the same time, two police appeared at the editorial office with a
warrant to obtain information on a Feral Tribune journalist. According
to Feral Tribune's editor, the investigators asked about the size of
the newspaper's staff, their whereabouts, how they communicate with
each other, whether the editor herself traveled abroad, how often, and
for what purpose. The police inspectors tried to visit another editor,
but he was not at home.

CPJ remains gravely concerned about the overturning of the June 1996
Zagreb Municipal Court acquittal on criminal libel charges of Feral
Tribune editor in chief Viktor Ivancic and reporter Marinko Culic. A
new trial on the same charges of insulting the president in a
satirical article, "Bones in the Mixer," is expected in September or
October, although the defendants have said that they will refuse to
appear in the court.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting press freedom
throughout the world, CPJ urges you to revoke your written consent for
the criminal prosecution of the journalists. Since the penal code is
currently undergoing revision by Croatia's parliament, it is an
opportune time for you to press for the repeal of Article 77 of the
penal code which mandates punishment of up to three years'
imprisonment for journalists who criticize the president of the
Republic of Croatia, the prime minister, the president of the Supreme
Court and the president of the Constitutional Court. Criminal
sanctions for libel are no longer employed in Europe and currently no
journalist in Europe is imprisoned for his or her writing.

CPJ is also concerned about the 30-40 civil libel lawsuits pending
against Feral Tribune for damages. These lawsuits amount to a
potential 2 to 3 million dollars in fines which, together with legal
costs, are an impossible financial burden for the Feral Tribune and
represent a crushing blow to the independent media in Croatia.

CPJ urges Your Excellency, as the recently re-elected president of
Croatia, to act in consistency with your obligations under
international guarantees for freedom of the press, in keeping with
your professed intention to join the community of democratic nations.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your reply and


William A. Orme, Jr.
Executive Director

Ambassador Miomir Zuzul
Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith