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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 07 NOV 1995 23:03:03 GMT

    New Sentencing of A Journalist

    IS THE HAGUE TO BLAME?

    Text:

    AIM, Podgorica, November 4, 1995

    The old battle between the supporters of war and the supporters of peace on the territory of Montenegro is coming to its close before a Montenegrin court these days. In the role of the prosecutor, in the same ranks and on the joint front, appeared journalists and information organizations which wrote in the language of hatred, while the accused was Veseljko Koprivica, Editor of the party paper "Liberal", and the founder of that paper the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro, who fiercly opposed the war and war propaganda. Naturally, the verdict was passed by the authorities, i.e. the "independent judiciary".

    Thus, the state war reporters, aided by the court, have again won the battle against the opponents of war. The Liberal Alliance of Montenegro as the founder of the paper "Liberal" and its editor-in-chief Veseljko Koprivica have been sentenced to pay what is in Montenegro an enormous fine of 150 thousand dinars (the average personal income in Montenegro is about 120 dinars) to three journalists - war reporters of the Podgorica "Pobjeda" and "Niksicke novine".

    Cedo Dobrovic, magistrate of the Basic Court in Podgorica decided in favour of such a draconic sentence because he thinks that only such a sentence can compensate for, as he emphasized, "the mental anguish inflicted" upon the three journalists - plaintiffs. According to the court's opinion the journalists have suffered "serious mental distress", because of the untrue information published in the paper "Liberal" on September 24, 1994 under the title 'The Sixteen'". Namely, in that article "Liberal" stated that "a large number of journalists from the territory of the former Yugoslavia is also in the voluminous Hague documents, who will have to answer before that Tribunal for war-mongering propaganda". After that followed names of 16 journalists from Montenegro "whom the Hague Tribunal will discuss as war-mongerers - criminals". In addition, the article states that these "are mostly journalists of state media, the majority of which are from 'Pobjeda' from Podgorica".

    The publication of the article "The Sixteen" was immediately followed by a veritable series of court trials against the editor Koprivica and the founder the Liberal Alliance (LSCG). The first verdicts were announced in mid October. In a separate court proceeding Musika Dujovic, magistrate of the Basic Court of Podgorica, on the basis of a private suit of the former editor-in-chief of "Pobjeda" Vidoje Konotar and a journalist of that paper Milutin Labovic for "the criminal offence of slander" sentenced the editor Koprivica and LSCG to a 1,000 dinars fine. The same judge sentenced them for that same offence to a fine in the amount of 800 dinars on the basis of the law suit filed by the journalist Radojica Bulatovic, from Radio Montenegro.

    However, these sentences did not stir the public. The storm rose after the sentence judge Dobrovic pronounced on the Liberals to pay the journalists of "Pobjeda" Vasko Radusinovic and Milorad Boskovic, as well as the editor-in-chief of "Niksicke novine" Milorad Stojovic 150,000 dinars for "endured mental sufferings". The democratic public reacted vehemently so that, for example, the Montenegrin PEN Center points out in its statement that "our 'independent judiciary' not even now, when accounts of the pernicious four-year war are being settled, recognizes professional journalistic information, but looks for the culprits in those who have consistently, by truth, opposed that war. By protecting the integrity of war correspondents who "suffered mental distress" on account of the incriminating information, it seems that the Court forgot to recall all the mental and other sufferings inflicted by the regime media and their war reporters upon the innocent population - by arbitrary or completely false information."

    The Montenegrin Helsinki Committee on Human Rights noticed numerous omissions on the part of the Court and stated that "the 'LSCG - Koprivica' case is sufficient proof that it is hard to talk about an honest and just trial, about the observance of the principle of the equality of the parties to the trial and in general, about respect for the human rights of the defendants".

    "The aim of the law suits and, regrettably, of the verdicts is unequivocal, namely to destory the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro", claims the Podgorica lawyer Petar Kankaras, counsel for the Liberals. He also points out "that the Court did nothing to ensure the presentation of the necessary evidence as it is empowered and obliged to do" and that it had "first accepted the proposal of the defendants (LSCG and editor Koprivica) and decided to request a report from the International Tribunal in the Hague whether journalists suspected of war-mongering were really on the list of persons to be discussed by the Tribunal because of their war-mongering activities, only to repeal such a decision at the next hearing, on the grounds that FRY does not recognize the Hague Tribunal"!

    - "The Court made another omission" - thinks lawyer Kankaras. "It did not accept the proposal of the defendants to have the texts of the journalists from the list published in the "Liberal" read, which clearly show that true war-mongerers are in question.

    This will remain the first case in the history of Montenegrin journalism of such an amount of compensation being demanded and awarded by first instance court verdicts for a journalist's text. However, this record amount exceeding 150,000 din. is a mere pittance compared to what the regime "Pobjeda" demands in court. The only Montenegrin daily demands indemnification of no less than 15 million din plus interest from the Liberals for having published the incriminating text!

    "Pobjeda", one of the main pillars of the Serbo-Montenegrin regime in the manufacture of war, during the war in the area of the former Yugoslavia, as noted by the liberals, now like a happily married lady with a not exactly pristine past, forgets what it did and claims in its suit that due to the incriminating text "the impression was created in the vast majority of the Yugoslav public that war-mongerers and criminals work in 'Pobjeda', i.e. that 'Pobjeda' is a paper pursuing war-mongering and criminal propaganda. 'Pobjeda' additionally stresses that the article in 'Liberal', particularly emphasizes and underlines that on the list of the journalists war-mongerers - criminals the majority come from 'Pobjeda', which is evident intent to inflict damage to our paper by implicitly accusing 'Pobjeda' of an editorial concept which actually boils down to war-mongering or war crime, committed by its well known eminent journalists".

    According to the Liberals, the astronomical amount of 15 million din., which according to the official exchange rate equals DM 15 million, which the only daily in Montenegro demands of LSCG, is equal to the value of the entire sold circulation of "Pobjeda" over seven years at the time the suit was initiated! For comparison purposes, we shall adduce another example: on the basis of the election results the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro gets about 150,000 dinars out of the Montenegrin budget, the same amount as that awarded to the journalists - war mongerers.

    The hearing of the "Pobjeda" case was after several postponements held on October 23, before judge Radojka Nikolic. The continuation was scheduled for November 30 when evidence is to be presented. Judging by this the Liberal Alliance and the "Liberal" editor Veseljko Koprivica may dearly pay for the suffered "mental distress" and the "fall of circulation and the tarnishing of the reputation and renown" of 'Pobjeda'. It is hard to say how much that will cost.

    However, even without that verdict and on the basis of the already pronounced ones, it can be concluded that the Montenegrin authorities always react with hostility to any public presentation of "dirty linen" connected with the war, war-mongering, the attack on Dubrovnik...For it is obvious that charges of that kind directly affect them also. But, it is hardly likely that they will annul responsibility for everything that happened and is still happening by draconic court verdicts. The other dimension of this verdict is the party one - next year is election year in Montenegro and in this way the ruling party wishes to eliminate one of the strongest opposition parties from the race.

    Seki RADONCIC (AIM Podgorica)