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Accused war criminal sues newspaper for alleged defamation; newspaper claims death threats linked to his release on bail

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 26 February 2008 WAN letter to Croatian President Stjepan Mesić:

His Excellency President Stjepan Mesić
President of Croatia

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to express our serious concern at a death threat being made against journalist Drago Hedl.

According to reports, on 12 February Mr Hedl, editor of the weekly Feral Tribune, received a letter at his home address containing a death threat.

Mr Hedl has investigated war crimes against civilians in the city of Osijek in 1991. Several others involved in a war crimes trial received the same letter.

We are also concerned that Feral Tribune is being sued by Branimir Glava?, who has been charged with war crimes, for 1 million kuna for defamation. Feral Tribune, which in 1997 was awarded the WAN Golden Pen of Freedom, claims that its reporting on the case against Mr Glava?, who has been released on bail despite facing such a serious charge, has led to death threats being made against its journalists, including Mr Hedl, and witnesses.

We respectfully remind you that it is the duty of the state to provide an environment in which journalists are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of intimidation. Such incidents foster a climate of fear that inhibits journalistic investigation and can promote self-censorship.

We respectfully call on you to do everything possible to ensure that those responsible for threatening Mr Hedl are quickly brought to justice. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that international standards of freedom of expression are fully respected in your country.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

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