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Albanian, Croatian journalists threatened, violently assaulted; Montenegrin publisher, newspaper lose one exorbitant lawsuit, hit by another

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a press release by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate:

SEEMO CONCERNED ABOUT CURRENT MEDIA ENVIRONMENT IN SOUTH EAST EUROPE

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 about the current media environment in South East Europe, tarnished by a recent string of attacks on journalists and other press freedom violations.

According to information before SEEMO, during the evening of 23 May, Mladen Stojovic, a sports journalist from Montenegro, was physically attacked by unidentified assailants in his apartment in Bar. Stojovic, who was taken to the hospital in a state of shock, has no memory of the attack other than being covered in blood after regaining consciousness. He sustained severe head injuries and a fractured jaw. Stojovic, a reporter for Danas, a Belgrade daily, and correspondent for the Montenegrin daily Vijesti, was the first journalist to write about the mafia's involvement in football in Serbia and Montenegro. He has repeatedly been threatened for his journalistic work.

In May, two other journalists were harassed in Albania. On 16 May, Perparim Halili, vice editor-in-chief of the newspaper Sot, was threatened by a supporter of the Democratic Party of Albania (DP) at their Tirana headquarters. A group of DP supporters joined the harassment and forced Halili, at the headquarters for work, from the DP premises.

A few days later, on 20 May, Ksenofon Ilia, an investigative journalist reporting for a TV programme addressing corruption and organised crime, sought to interview a judge, and was threatened by the judge's brother, who was carrying a gun. Ilia continued asking questions, prompting both men to exit their vehicle and brutally attack him. A severely-injured Ilia was later found and given medical assistance. The High Council of Justice subsequently announced that legal proceedings will be initiated against the judge.

SEEMO is also concerned about an incident in Serbia, where approximately fifty supporters of the "Workers' Resistance" ("Radnicki otpor") movement attempted to force their way into the premises of Kragujevac Television on 19 May. The supporters, finally stopped by the police, sought to enter the building to record a statement of their leader on alleged election improprieties.

The tendency to view journalists as easy targets may very well have its roots in a dangerous trend towards impunity. In Serbia, three unsolved murder cases against journalists loom large. Slavko Curuvija, the owner of the daily Dnevni Telegraf and the magazine Evropljanin from Belgrade, was gunned down near his home in the centre of Belgrade on 11 April 1999. Milan Pantic, a local reporter for the Belgrade-based daily Vecernje Novosti, was murdered on 11 June 2001, in the central Serbian town of Jagodina. Dada Vujasinovic, a journalist, was killed on 8 April 1994.

The investigation into last year's bomb attack in the centre of Belgrade, in front of the home of Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist for the weekly Vreme, who reports about the war crimes, also has yielded no results to date. Similarly, the brutal May 2004 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, owner and editor-in-chief of Montenegrin daily Dan, who was killed in Podgorica, remains unsolved.

Two exceptions should be noted. Croatian police promptly arrested the alleged suspect in the attack on Filip Brala, photojournalist for Zadarski list and 24 Sata, targeted while filming a football game in Gorica on 26 May. Similarly, the perpetrator of the 20 May attack of on Danijela Banko has also been detained, and is awaiting trial in Zadar. Banko, a journalist from Narodni list, was attacked in front of witnesses in connection with one of her articles. She sustained severe bruises and required hospitalization. SEEMO commends the swift reaction in these cases.

In the judicial sphere, lawsuits involving exorbitant requests for damages, some so high they carry the risk of financial insolvency, have provided additional reason for concern. In February 2008, a company registered in the Netherlands sought ten million Euros in damages from the publishing house "Daily press", publishing-group of the daily Vijesti, and Nebojsa Medojevic, economic expert and political leader of the Pokret za Promjene (Movement for Change) party. The lawsuit is based on a 17 February article written by Medojevic, and published by Vijesti, Montenegro's leading newspaper, on the privatization of a particular company. It was filed even though the paper published a different point of view on the matter two days after running the initial article.

The proceeding is not the first lawsuit against Vijesti involving an excessive request for compensation. In September 2007, Milo Djukanovic, today Prime Minister, requested one million Euros in damages from the paper. An initial decision in the matter, rendered in May 2008, imposed a punishment of 20,000 Euros, an amount still disproportionate in light of average incomes in Montenegro.

SEEMO also expresses its concern about the large number of other lawsuits against the print media in Montenegro during the past months, and additionally stresses the importance of forming an independent Press Council, acceptable to all, in Montenegro.

SEEMO notes with concern this trend of assaults, both judicial and physical, against journalists in the entire region. It calls on authorities to demonstrate their commitment to the protection of journalists, and press freedom more generally, by taking active steps to counter these disturbing developments.

Updates the alerts on the current Montenegrin prime minister's lawsuit against "Vijesti": http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89169

For further information on the Stojovic case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94078

For further information on the Kragujevac television station case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93918/

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