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Eyewitness report from the Filipovic trial

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an eyewitness report from the Miroslav Filipovic trial, being distributed by CPJ:

Journalist or Spy?
An eyewitness report from the Filipovic trial in Nis, Yugoslavia

By Vesna Peric

Nis, July 27, 2000 --- A military court in the southern Serbian town of Nis sentenced Serb journalist Miroslav Filipovic, 49, to seven years in prison yesterday for espionage and spreading false news.

The verdict and sentence against Filipovic were pronounced by the presiding judge, Col. Radenko Miladinovic, who said, "It was established beyond any doubt that Filipovic collected, processed, and sent military information, described as military secrets, to foreign organisations, which means that he engaged in espionage."

Since the sentence exceeds five years in prison, Filipovic is to remain in custody while the Supreme Military Court in Belgrade hears his appeal.

According to the court decision, Filipovic was found guilty of "deliberately collecting, processing, and sending sensitive military material to foreign organisations---namely the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in London and Agence France Presse (AFP) in Paris." Judge Miladinovic added that Filipovic had written about alleged Yugoslav Army atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during last year's NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, and that he had described Yugoslav military strategy as "the tactics of killing and burning."

Filipovic specifically alleged that army and Serbian police forces had looted deserted Albanian villages and killed Albanian women and children, Judge Miladinovic said.

The judge claimed that these reports, along with Filipovic's articles on the situation in the Serbian territory of Sandzak, which is populated predominantly by Muslims, were "all false" and contained "great untruths" about the army.

The judge also rejected as untrue Filipovic's reports that the army had surrounded Muslim villages with tanks, sometimes evicting villagers from their homes or burning the villages.

Judge Miladinovic also cited Filipovic's reports on the situation along the border between Serbia and the Serbian province of Kosovo, which has been under United Nations control since June 1999. In particular, the judge quoted Filipovic's descriptions of Yugoslav Army and Serbian police efforts to destabilise the area around Bujanovac and Presevo by intimidating the local ethnic Albanian population. (The territory belongs to Serbia, but is mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.)

Such reports, some of which appeared in the independent Belgrade daily Danas, could have caused "disturbance and dissatisfaction" among the public, the judge said.

At the same time, the judge ruled that other military information included in Filipovic's articles (dealing with army organisation, movements, and other activities) was "all exact and true."

"The degree of secrecy of the material that Filipovic obtained ... was not important for this court," the judge said. "The important thing is that such information was sent to foreign organisations." Commenting on the defence argument that Filipovic merely published information that had already appeared in other media, the judge said: "We did have a dilemma about the fact that many of those things were already available to the public. But there will be time for those others who were responsible for publishing such information."

After the verdict was pronounced, Filipovic's wife Slavica was allowed 15 minutes in private with her husband. No one besides her and the defence attorneys was permitted to speak with Filipovic.

Slavica Filipovic then told journalists that the case against her husband was clearly political. "I am not surprised by the sentence, since the court was obviously put under pressure," she said. "My husband is not guilty and the court did not say what he really did. This sentence is a message to Miroslav's colleagues not to work for foreign media or for Danas."

Serb journalists present at the court agreed with this assessment, saying that they now fear being forced into self-censorship.

Filipovic's attorney Oran Ateljevic told journalists that he would use all legal means at his disposal to prove his client's innocence. After receiving the written verdict, the defence has 15 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Military Court in Belgrade, which must rule within 90 days.

"The harsh sentence was not based on law and is groundless," Ateljevic said. "Filipovic did not do the things the court said he did. Is it really espionage if a journalist publishes signed articles about matters that are already known to the public?"

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