CROATIA: Changes to the criminal law by the Croatian government

CROATIA, 27/06/2003

To:

Ivica Racan
Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia
Fax: +385 1 6303 023

Zlatko Tomcic
President of the Parliament
Fax: +385 1 6303 010
Zagreb, Croatia   

Your Excelency,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the criminal law by the Croatian government.

According to information before SEEMO, some of the proposed amendments limit freedom of expression and represent a retrograde step in the enactment of legislation that should meet international standards. The government proposed the change of Article 203 of the criminal law by removing the shield protecting journalists from accusations of libel.

In addition, Article 200 of the criminal law, nullifies the defense of"truth". Even if the defendant proves that his statement was true, he could still face punishment for insult, if the statement was made with the intention of harming somebody's reputation.

The government has also proposed the amendment of Article 309 of thecriminal law by introducing a new paragraph, which can easily be appliedagainst journalists since it would criminalise certain instances of insultand mockery of public officials.

Therefore, SEEMO finds the above mentioned laws and amendments anobstruction to freedom of expression. The changes to the legislation mark a return to a time when there was considerable control in Croatia of what was said and written and, as such, they will make it impossible for journalists to do their job without fear of harrassment. SEEMO asks that Croatian law in this area be amended to meet international standards on freedom of expression. We remind you that civil law should deal with insult and libel instead of criminal law and that prison sentences for defamation should be removed from the statute books.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic

SEEMO Secretary General

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