Reporters Without Borders

Free expression hangs on outcome of international court's prosecution of French journalist

Free expression hangs on outcome of international court’s prosecution of French journalist

Published on Wednesday 8 July 2009.
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Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for former French journalist Florence Hartmann and hopes she will be acquitted on charges of contempt of court and divulging confidential information when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) issues its verdict, which is expected in the next few days.

A former Yugoslavia correspondent of Le Monde who later worked as official spokesperson and Balkan adviser to ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, Hartmann is being tried in connection with what she wrote about the court in her 2007 book “Peace and Punishment”.

“The right to free expression about cases handled by international courts depends on the ICTY’s verdict,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Only Hartmann’s acquittal will reaffirm this fundamental freedom, which is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and which is being threatened by the ICTY’s prosecution.”

“If Hartmann is convicted, it would seriously harm the development of the international courts, which has already been seriously compromised by this case,” the press freedom organisation continued. “How can you trust a court to establish the truth about cases of war crimes and genocide if the same court is bent on covering up information about how it works?

Reporters Without Borders added: “The ICTY has it in for Hartmann above all because her book mentions the accords which some of its members reached with the Serbian authorities not reveal certain documentary evidence that had been made available to it. It is legitimate to ask whether the ICTY had a right to reach agreements to cover up documents that would help render justice.”

When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Hartmann criticised the ICTY’s “legal fundamentalism” and its readiness to get bogged down in a superfluous trials, especially given its limited resources, instead of concentrating on its primary mission of trying and convicting war criminals. She was “very worried about the credibility and future of international criminal justice,” she said.

Her lawyer, Karim Khan, argued in his final presentation to the court that none of the prosecution’s claims had been corroborated and that “decades of jurisprudence by the European Court of Human Rights on freedom of expression would be consigned to oblivion if a journalist were condemned for raising matters of public interest.”

The prosecutor asked the court on 3 July to fine Hartmann between 7,000 and 15,000 euros. If the court complies, it will set a very disturbing precedent for both freedom of expression and international justice. Hartmann has said she will appeal if convicted.

The existence of an agreement between the ICTY and the Serbian authorities to redact documents from the archives of the Supreme Council for the Defence of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montegro) implicating the Serbian government in war crimes was already known before Hartmann’s book was published.

Several newspapers, including the New York Times, had written about it but none of them was prosecuted by the ICTY.

The ICTY brought its “contempt of court” charges against Hartmann on 27 August 2008. Reporters Without Borders has posted key passages from her book on its website.

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