February 18, 2005


Vienna, 18/02/2005


Stjepan Mesic
President of Croatia

Ivo Sanader
Prime Minister of Croatia

Vladimir Seks
President of the Croatian Parliament

Zagreb, Croatia

Your Excellencies,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe, and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is deeply concerned by the decision by a Croatian Court to uphold a suspended jail sentence given to a journalist under the Criminal Code, as well by reports that the Croatian security service has tried to discredit a group of journalists.

According to information before SEEMO, the County Court in the town of Split recently decided to uphold the sentence against Ljubica Letinic, a journalist for Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), after she filed an appeal. On 12 July 2004, Letinic was handed down a two-month suspended prison sentence by a Municipal Court in Split for defaming a local businessman in the television programme “Latinica” in March 2002.

SEEMO regards prison terms for defamation, whether suspended or not, as a gross violation of internationally accepted standards. Along with numerous other inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, we believe that defamation should be treated under civil law, not as a criminal offence subject to state punishments.

We would like to remind you that SEEMO already reacted to this case in 2004. Therefore, we once again call on the Croatian authorities to initiate the process of removing repressive laws that criminalise defamation, as well as to take the appropriate steps to ensure that the sentence against Ljubica Letinic is revoked.

Finally, SEEMO has been informed by a group of five Croatian journalists that the Counter-Intelligence Agency (POA) recently accused them of meeting with representatives of foreign secret services.

Zeljko Peratovic of the daily Vjesnik, Gordan Malic of Globus, Ivica Djikic of the Feral Tribune, and Ivanka Toma and Marijo Kavain of the daily Jutarnji list, are calling for an inquiry after an article in the Globus weekly claimed that the POA, led by its former chief Franjo Turek, had tapped their phones in 2003 and 2004 because they were suspected of participating in a media-intelligence campaign against Croatia. The reporters said that a published POA document described their articles on investigations by the Hague war crimes tribunal and the functioning of security services as “a premeditated, organised and coordinated campaign to disseminate misinformation jeopardising national security.”

SEEMO urges the Croatian authorities to investigate this case and to allow journalists to work freely.

We would like to remind Your Excellencies that a safe working environment for journalists, without any pressure, is a fundamental principle in every democratic society.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic

SEEMO Secretary General