AIM: start

TUE, 25 DEC 2001 12:02:05 GMT

Keeping an Eye on Journalists

AIM Mostar, December 14, 2001

Reports of illegal surveillance of journalists and ordinary people have sparked controversy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many citizens groups and politicians are demanding that information on the matter be made public.

The Mostar-based journalist association Apel, representing reporters of all ethnic backgrounds, was the first to launch such an initiative. The association sent an open letter to numerous organizations and institutions -- the Croatian Post and Telecommunications Office in Mostar, the Post Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ministry of the Interior of the Muslim-Croat Federation, the U.N. Mission in Bosnia, and SFOR -- demanding publication of a list of journalists whose conversations have been taped in recent years.

In the letter, the association said it was approached by many reporters from across the Muslim-Croat Federation who complained that information gathered in this way had been used to intimidate them. Apel, therefore, asked Croatian Post Office manager Slavko Kukic and Bosniak Post Office manager Edin Batlak to say if "equipment and employees of the this companies is used for surveillance operations targeting journalists." Federation Interior Minister Ramo Maslesa and his deputy, Tomislav Limov, were asked to say "who is authorized to order surveillance," and to make lists of journalists who were victims of such campaigns publicly available. The association said it expected full cooperation from SFOR and the U.N. Mission in Bosnia.

"We believe you will agree with us that as professional journalists we have the right to demand that state institutions and officials take action to resolve all instances in which journalists were exposed to pressure. We consider phone tapping and surveillance of journalists as being in violation of democratic principles and that the current government, almost a year after it was formed, should no longer hesitate to deal with this widespread anomaly," said Apel in the letter.

The only response so far has come from the Mostar-based Croatian Postal Office, whose director, Slavko Kukic, ordered an investigation carried out in the company to determine whether company resources had been used for for surveillance of journalists and other people. The interior ministry of the Muslim-Croat Federation has yet to respond, but the interior ministry of the Herzeg-Bosna district, responding to a request by journalists from Livno said it had no such equipment and, therefore, could not organize any surveillance operations.

Apel also said its campaign was not only launched to determine whether police were involved in surveillance, but, primarily, to establish whether there had been any illegal activities on the part of the Croatian and Bosniak secret services in the entity when it comes to illegal surveillance of journalists. In a statement for AIM, Josip Blazevic, Apel chairman, said that the association has information that even after general elections held on Nov. 11, 2000, surveillance of journalists who wrote about the presence of mujahedeen in Bosnia, and criticized the proclamation of Croatian autonomy continued.

"We launched the initiative precisely because of information that not only journalists, but politicians and other public figures as well, were subject to such treatment. This is why, in accordance with the Free Access to Information Act, we want all such instances and their victims revealed to the public," says Blazevic. He adds Apel will continue to press for its goal, using all democratic means available, because a year after the change of government, the public has a right to know about the secret services' activities in areas which are not in their jurisdiction.

Almost all reporters in Bosnia say strange things have happened with their cell phones, that they had received numerous messages never meant for them and that often while talking by phone they would hear an echo. Banjaluka media reported that most journalists in that entity were under surveillance under the pretext that they are in touch with foreign secret services. According to them, the list of journalists subject to such surveillance in RS is quite long.

Some Croatian politicians in Bosnia also went public with claims that their conversations were tapped, and New Croatian Initiative president Kresimir Zubak said he was not subject to surveillance only by the Croatian and Bosniak secret services, but by a number of others, operating outside the law and totally independently, under the auspices of certain lobbies and political parties. Bosnian media said the Bosniak secret service eavesdropped, in addition to politicians and journalists, senior Roman Catholic Church dignitaries, and among them Cardinal Vinko Puljic as well.

According to available information, the secret services in Bosnia have very sophisticated surveillance equipment, and the RS secret service, for example, can listen to 10,000 telephone conversations simultaneously, whereas its Bosniak counterpart, can survey 40,000 conversations at once. There is no reliable information on the capabilities of the Croatian secret service, but it is rumored that it has special equipment for tapping regular telephone lines and special vans for monitoring GSM telephones.

The vans, allegedly, are located near GSM operators' relay stations and can access easily any cell phone they please. According to unofficial sources, the Croatian secret service got its equipment back in 1996 thanks to Miroslav Tudjman, son of late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who, while his father was in power, was the first Croatian spy. The service continued to monitor journalists in Bosnia even after the change of government because it was organized by the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina and this party is still its direct superior.

The Croatian secret service in the Muslim-Croat Federation allegedly used to have phone tapping equipment in all post offices in the former Herzeg-Bosna. After the managing team in the Croatian Post Office in Mostar was replaced this summer by a new team appointed by the new entity government, the equipment, according to unofficial information, was removed.

The issue of illegal surveillance of journalists and other people was also discussed at the time Bosnian Presidency members Joze Krizanovic and Beriz Belkic appointed new secret service chiefs. Bosnian media reported at the time that Ivan Vuksic, the newly-appointed chief of the Croatian secret service, was Krizanic's private candidate, appointed, allegedly, in exchange for a service done to Krizanic by Ante Jelavic, president of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Jelavic, during his stint as a Bosnian Presidency member, allegedly arranged for Krizanic's brother to get a position in the Bosnian embassy in Zagreb.

Non-government organizations and the media have asked for the publication of information on past illegal activities, including surveillance of journalists, as the first test of the new secret services' willingness to operate lawfully. To this day the services, however, have not disclosed anything about their operations during the past five years, and not one politician from the ruling Alliance for Change has demanded that they release such information.

The funniest statement in this regard, said Amela Rebac, Apel's vice chairman, came from Bosnian Presidency member Beriz Belkic. He said an investigation would be launched as soon as he was presented with compelling proof that journalists had indeed been subject to surveillance. "Instead of responding by launching an immediate investigation into the matter, Belkic is asking for evidence from those who cannot possibly give him any material proof," say Rebac.

Since very sophisticated equipment is required to detect surveillance equipment used by the secret services, Belkic's statement is reckless to say the least. But it also reveals senior officials' unwillingness to deal with illegal activities of this kind that plague Bosnian society. The reason why Belkic responded in such a manner could be sought in the fact that he is a member of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, created after a rift in the Party of Democratic Action. It is a well-known fact that the Party of Democratic Action created the Bosniak secret service, and that this organization, much like its Croatian counterpart, operated in the past as an extension of the party. Analysts believe that the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina is trying to prevent the truth on the operations of the secret services from emerging, because this could cast a negative light on certain party officials who used to be members of the Party of Democratic Action.

Zoran Tihic