AUSTRIA: IPI/SEEMO Demands Reform of Hague Tribunal's Rule 77

AUSTRIA, 03/10/2005

At a meeting of over 60 editors-in-chief, leading journalists and media executives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro, on 13 October 2005 in Opatija, Croatia, the International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), expressed their support for the actions taken by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, regarding his demands for the reform of the procedures of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ("ICTY").

In his letter to the president of the ICTY, dated 11 October 2005, Haraszti referred to the case of Croatian journalists who have been indicted by the ICTY for contempt of court and demanded the amendment of Rule 77 of the ICTY's Rules of Procedure and Evidence dealing with contempt, so that it would only apply to those officials who have actually leaked confidential information.

According to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the judicial practices of many democracies, the imprisonment of a journalist for dissemination of classified information is always a disproportionate punishment, and its chilling effect hinders unconstrained debate of public issues.

In contrast to this, the Croatian journalists indicted by the ICTY under Rule 77 can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years imprisonment and fined up to 100,000 Euros.

IPI/SEEMO appeals to the ICTY to urgently change its rules dealing with contempt of court so that internationally acknowledged principles of press freedom are upheld.

"The right to access information of public concern should be recognised everywhere," said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General, adding, "Journalists should not be held liable for the possession or publication of classified documents, particularly where such information may already be publicly available."

The Director of IPI, Professor Johann Fritz said, "We highly appreciate Mr. Haraszti's solid understanding of the functioning of a free press and fully support the need for a change to Rule 77 so that it reflects the fundamental importance of press freedom and the free flow of information."

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

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