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CAPSULE REPORT: SEEMO alarmed at deteriorating press freedom situation in several countries in the region

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 6 November 2007 press release by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate:

SEEMO Alarmed at Press Freedom Situation in South East Europe

Vienna, 6 November 2007

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 worsening situation for journalists in the South Eastern European (SEE) region.

SEEMO is alarmed at the activities of the Croatian police against freedom of expression and the fact that Zeljko Peratovic, a Croatian investigative journalist and blogger, was briefly imprisoned starting on 17 October. He was later released after spending 20 hours in prison. According to the police in Zagreb, Peratovic allegedly published state secrets on his blog. The equipment and materials, including three PCs, which the police took from Peratovic during a raid on his home office, have not been returned to him.

SEEMO is also concerned about an attack against media companies in the Sandzak region of Serbia. On 7 October, TV Jedinstvo was attacked by unknown persons after airing an interview with a religious leader who is close to a local political party. The assailants demolished equipment of TV Jedinstvo and pulled a gun on the staff. They also physically attacked the editor Ramiz Etemovic. In addition, the local radio station Sto Plus was targeted at the beginning of September when the transmitters of the radio station were demolished. On 10 October, there was an explosion close to the transmitters of the same radio station on ?ultenovacko brdo in the town of Novi Pazar. Radio Sto Plus is owned by the private Belgrade news agency Beta.

The local media in the Sandzak region have been the victims of the conflict between two leaders of Bosniak parties. The local authorities of Sandzak have banned access to the municipality for those journalists whose writing is described as "unfavorable". Several journalists have said they have had problems in reporting during recent weeks. These include: Ivana Milic, correspondent of the Belgrade RTV B92 and a journalist of TV Jedinstvo, Refik Sadikovic, editor-in-chief of the religious publication Glas Islama and Enes Halilovic, correspondent of the Belgrade news agency Fonet and the daily Blic. At the same time, several Islamic religious leaders have verbally attacked several political independent media for "conspiracy against the Islamic community".

Also in recent weeks, there have been statements against media from political representatives in Belgrade who are close to the government. The politicians cannot accept the right of journalists and media in Serbia to make critical reports about the state, and they do not accept the decisions of journalists to carry out interviews with persons who do not share the Serbian government's point of view.

SEEMO also condemns an attack in Kosovo on 17 October, when Vesna Bojicic, correspondent of the Voice of America in Pristina, was beaten in her apartment in Caglavica by an unknown man in a black uniform. During the attack, the perpetrator criticized the reporting of Bojicic, and her "pro-Kosovo Albanian" views.

SEEMO is also critical of police officers in Moldova who, on 19 October, attacked two members of the staff of Pro TV from Chisinau, the journalist Angela Gonta and the cameraman Vlad Culiomza. This happened when the Pro TV crew was making a report about a police raid on a house in Chisinau.

Finally, on 1 November, Tufik Softic, a journalist of Radio Berane and a local correspondent of the daily Republika, was beaten by two persons and injured in front of his house in the center of Berane, a Montenegrin town. Exactly two months earlier, Zeljko Ivanovic, founder and director of the daily Vijesti from Podgorica, was physically attacked by several assailants near a restaurant, where the newspaper had celebrated its 10th anniversary. Ivanovic was injured in this attack and received medical help. One year earlier, on 24 October 2006, Jevrem Brkovic, a leading novelist in Montenegro, was attacked by masked assailants, while his driver Srdjan Vojicic was shot dead, close to the place where Ivanovic was recently attacked. Dusko Jovanovic, director of the daily Dan, was killed on the night of 27 May 2004 in front of the newspaper's editorial office in Podgorica. His killer remains free.

Commenting on these press freedom violations, SEEMO Secretary General, Oliver Vujovic, said, "SEEMO strongly condemns these threats, as well as any government or state actions, including at the police and municipality levels, that restrict the work and movement of journalists. I am very concerned about the worsening working conditions for journalists in the SEE region. For this reason SEEMO will continue to monitor media developments in the region, especially in Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia".

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