War crimes court fines Croatian journalist for contempt

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal held a Croatian journalist in contempt of court.

Source: The Associated Press

Josip Jović was fined him 20,000 euros for publishing the name and testimony of a protected witness.

Josip Jović's trial last month was seen as a test of the limits of journalistic freedom at the international court that often relies on testimony from witnesses whose identity is shielded from the media and public to prosecute war criminals.

Jović, who had faced up to seven years in prison and a EUR100,000 fine, wasn't in the Hague-based court for the judgment, but from Croatia, he vowed to appeal.

"It is a legal absurdity, from the very indictment to the verdict," he told state news agency HINA.

Jović added that he would rather settle for a prison sentence because he would have to take out a loan to pay the fine.

At trial, he acknowledged publishing the name of a witness - Croatia's President Stipe Mesić - whose identity had been protected by the U.N. tribunal - but pleaded not guilty to contempt, arguing that it already was common knowledge that Mesić had testified.

As editor of one of Croatia's largest newspapers, Slobodna Dalmacija, in November and December 2000, Jović published both a court protection order and Mesić's testimony.

Mesić, the last president of Yugoslavia in 1991-1992 before it was torn apart by civil war, testified in 1998 in the trial of former Col. Tihomir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat who was later convicted of war crimes and sentenced to eight years. Mesić testified only on condition his identity be withheld from press and public.

Jović's defense lawyer, Krešimir Kršnik, argued that the veil of secrecy shouldn't have been granted to such a public figure.

"As a prominent politician, person, everything he does is bound to arouse interest from Croatia's citizens," Kršnik said.
In Croatia, Mesić said Wednesday that the sentence "is a message to all that they should stick to the law and international standards."

But presiding judge Patrick Robinson said Jović's actions treated the tribunal "with utter disregard."

"His actions not only were contemptuous," Robinson said, "but also stymied the tribunal's ability to safeguard the evidence of a protected witness and risked undermining confidence in the tribunal's ability to grant effective protective measures."

Robinson accepted Mesić's public acknowledgment that he had testified in the Blaskic case as a mitigating factor, but said that "nevertheless, the contemptuous behavior here was particularly egregious."

The three-judge panel also rejected freedom of the press as a defense, saying that the court has the power to impose nondisclosure orders to protect witnesses and the court's authority.


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