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Arrest warrant against former ICTY spokeswoman

(RSF/IFEX) - 17 November 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is dumbfounded by the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against its former spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, who was convicted of contempt of court in 2009 for disclosing confidential documents.

The Hague-based court imposed a fine of 7,000 euros on Hartmann, a French journalist and former spokeswoman of prosecutor Carla del Ponte, after ruling that she "knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice."

"The conviction of Florence Hartmann was an outrage and contravened international case law relating to freedom of expression," the press freedom organization said. "Will France, for the first time in a very long time, imprison a journalist for something she has written?"

"It would be particularly ironic if the penalization of press offences makes its return in the European Union through the avenue of international justice. The tribunal's absurd persecution of her indubitably smacks of revenge, which is a far cry from the values it is meant to embody.

The tribunal confirmed the original verdict on appeal on 19 July and issued a deadline for the payment of the fine. Hartmann said the judgment was biased and refused to acknowledge it so long as she was denied an independent appeal.

The tribunal's appeal chamber issued an order on 16 October to the French authorities to "search for, arrest, detain and quickly hand over to the tribunal Florence Hartmann" adding that her fine had been converted into a seven-day prison term.

"This arrest warrant is only the tip of the iceberg, the latest in a series of infringements of my rights," Hartmann told Reporters Without Borders.

"The lack of impartiality among the judges who convicted me has been acknowledged but the procedure has continued on the basis of the foundations they laid.

"There is no provision for external redress against a decision by the ICTY and we have reached a legal impasse. The tribunal believes itself to be accountable to no-one, not even the European Court of Human Rights.

"We shall have to innovate and create new laws. With this arrest warrant, the ICTY has involved governments in my case. If they carry out its ruling, they will also be accountable for the infringements that it has committed.

In her 2007 book "Peace and Punishment", the journalist mentioned the existence of two judgments made by the tribunal's appeals chamber as part of the trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, which allegedly implicate the Serbian government in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

"I have never been prosecuted for breach of confidentiality, but for my journalistic investigations," she said. "I have been accused of disclosing information, part of which was confidential, but the precise nature of this information was only pointed out to me on appeal.

"In the end, it was not a question of the existence of the two judgments mentioned in my book (which was already public knowledge) but of the judges' legal reasoning. So from the outset, I was not aware of the charges against me."

Reporters Without Borders urges the French legal system to determine the validity of the arrest warrant that has been delivered to it and to consider the merits of the case in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

"The European Court of Human Rights has consistently emphasized the public interest in the reporting of legal issues," the organization said. "It would be illogical and dangerous if international justice was exempt."

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