Reporters Without Borders condemns the charge that was brought yesterday at the behest at interior minister Tomislav Karamarko against a journalist who writes about war crimes in the 1990s. Zeljko Peratovic is accused of “disseminating information likely to upset the population” under article 322/1 KZA of the criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison as well as a possible fine.
In blog entries (peratovic.net and peratovic.blog.hr), letters to national judicial officials and a series of public statements, Peratovic has accused the interior minister of obstructing the investigation into the death of Milan Levar, a witness under the protection of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), who was killed by a car bomb in the southeastern village of Gospic in August 2000.
Peratovic was questioned as a witness in the course of the investigation because he was one of the last people to see Levar alive. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation subsequently identified Peratovic as a witness, in violation of judicial confidentiality.
“Interior minister Karamarko portrays himself as the victim of defamation and claims that I want to upset the population, but he is pursuing a different objective” Peratovic said. “As well as fining me, the court could above all decide to ban me from disseminating information for an indefinite period. That would prevent be from undertaking any kind of journalistic activity, on my blog or in other media.”
Peratovic added: “It would also prevent me from continuing my effort to discover who was behind Milan Levar’s murder. Some people are counting on the statute of limitations eventually applying to this case. Silencing me could be a way of achieving this.”
Reporters Without Borders said: “It seems that press investigations into war crimes are not welcome at a time when Croatia is trying to join the European Union. The interior minister should be trying to help the investigation into a protected witness’s murder rather than attacking those who refuse to let war crimes be forgotten and go unpunished.”
“The prosecution being brought against Peratovic under article 322/1 is ridiculous and unacceptable,” the press freedom organisation continued. “The crime of ‘information likely to upset the population’ reflects on obsolete view of freedom of expression that is incompatible with the European democratic standards that Croatia will have to conform to if it wants to join the EU.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “If the prosecution of Peratovic goes ahead, we insist that whenever any of the parties are questioned in court, it no longer takes place behind closed doors.”
Zeljko Peratovic, who received death threats in 2008 in the form of comments added to his blog, was arrested at his home on 17 October 2007 on a charge of revealing state secret for posting documents on his blog relating to war crimes in Gospic in the 1990s, and for referring to the existence of a video of witness accusing former defence minister Gojko Susak (now deceased) and a parliamentary deputy president of involvement.
Aged 42, he faced a possible three-year prison sentence. In the event, the prosecution was not pursued but the charges have not been withdrawn and the files confiscated by the police have still not been returned to him.
Peratovic has worked for various newspapers, the latest of which is Vjesnik. His investigations into war crimes have earned him a lot of trouble. He has been fired, he has been physically attacked and he is regarded as a traitor by many of his compatriots, who refuse outright to consider the possibility that Croatians may have committed war crimes.
He received the received the press freedom prize of the Reporters Without Borders Austrian section in 2003.