The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists group, today condemned the recent rulings against the satirical weekly Feral Tribune in Croatia saying they were examples of "spiteful legal victimization" that threaten the paper's survival.
The IFJ is calling for a review of the legal regime that has brought Feral Tribune - a standard-bearer for independent journalism during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s - to the brink of extinction.
The weekly's bank account was frozen on 1 March, following the Zagreb Regional Court's sentencing of the weekly to fines amounting to 200,000 kuna (approx. US$23,900; 27,183 euros). The newspaper was sentenced for "moral damage" and publishing "cosmopolitan opinions and views".
"The laws that have been used are archaic, intolerant and should be rendered obsolete in any modern democracy," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "they have been used in a piece of spiteful legal victimisation that should be condemned internationally."
The first sentence is based on a 1995 article by art historian Zvonko Makovic, in which he analysed Marica Mestrovic's incompetence in her management of the Mestrovic Foundation. While the author's analysis was considered an acceptable form of public criticism, the magazine was heavily fined for publishing his article. The second sentence against the weekly is based on a 1993 article by Viktor Ivancic, who criticised anti-Semitic and pro-fascist remarks by Zeljko Olujic, an attorney with close ties to former president Franjo Tudjman. Olujic is representing Mestrovic.
The Constitutional Court ruled in May 2000 that the penal code article under which the prosecution was made possible is unconstitutional. "This law should be taken off the statute books and the rights of journalists to speak freely and openly should be reinforced," said Aidan White.
The IFJ is calling on journalists' unions worldwide to support the weekly following an open letter from the editorial board saying that they cannot guarantee the future publication of the magazine, because of the verdicts and financial sanctions.