Reporters Without Borders

By convicting former journalist, international court tries to muzzle coverage of its activities

By convicting former journalist, international court tries to muzzle coverage of its activities

Published on Tuesday 15 September 2009.
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Reporters Without Borders deplores yesterday’s decision by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to find former journalist Florence Hartmann guilty of contempt for revealing an agreement which the tribunal secretly reached with the Serbian government in connection with the trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

The court imposed a fine of 7,000 euros on Hartmann, a French national and onetime spokeswoman of prosecutor Carla del Ponte, after ruling that she “knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice.”

“The only honourable outcome to these sad proceedings would have been Florence Hartmann’s acquittal,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Unfortunately, this did not happen and we regret it deeply. This conviction undermines the credibility of international criminal justice. How can you trust a court that chooses to conceal documents that would help to render justice and then suppresses information about its own functioning?”

The tribunal brought the case against Hartmann for reporting in her 2007 book Peace and Punishment that some of the tribunal’s members obtained Serbian government documents for use in the case against Milosevic in exchange for an agreement not to disclose other information that could have implicated in Serbia in war crimes.

“Regardless of the size of the fine imposed on Hartmann, it is the mere fact of her conviction that is a disgrace,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It means the public is being denied a legitimate interest in an entire section of the tribunal’s activities. International justice would be strengthened by an open debate about the compromises that are acceptable in order to prepare genocide and war crimes prosecutions.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Aside from Hartmann’s case itself, this decision sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists covering the tribunal’s activities and could lead to self-censorship that would jeopardise our knowledge and understanding of its workings.”

Hartmann’s lawyer, Guénaël Mettraux, told Reporters Without Borders he was very disappointed. “By adopting a very strict definition of contempt, this ruling imposes narrow limits on journalists’ work, limits that are not just formal but also criminal,” he said. “It remains to be seen if it will be treated as representative of the current state of international law on this point. Either way, it sends a very bad signal to less democratic regimes.”

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for Hartmann and hopes her innocence will be fully recognised on appeal.

(Photo AFP)

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