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(E) Freedom of Expression - Croatian Style
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  05/9/2005 | Opinions | Unrated
(E) Freedom of Expression - Croatian Style

 

Freedom of Expression - Croatian Style

By Jerry Blaskovich, MD

A major drama is being played out in Croatia that has tremendous
ramifications, for it strikes at the very heart of the basic freedoms of
expression and the press.

On April 28,2005, The International Criminal Tribunal For The Former
Yugoslavia at the Hague issued indictments against Domogoj Margetic, a
former investigative reporter for ‘Hrvatsko Slovo‘, and three other
Croats for “contempt against the court for revealing a secret witness’s
identity and testimony in the Tihomir Blaskic trial“. If convicted each may serve
up to seven years or pay up to a 100k Euro fine.

The ‘secret’ witness was Stipe Mesic, Croatia’s president, whose
testimony ultimately convicted Blaskic. Interestingly, the Slobodna Dalmacija
published basically the same material, including naming Mesic, during
Racan’s tenure. Instead of pressuring the Hague, Mesic, typical of
communist rhetoric, called the paper a fascist publication, turned to Racan and
got the editor, Josip Jovic and several reporters fired then replaced them
with cadres loyal to Mesic and Racan.

Once the Croatian media learned about the indictments, instead of
interviewing representatives of “Udruzenje Novinara Republike Hrvatske”
(UNRH)[Society of Reporters from the Republic of Croatia], which
Margetic is
a member of, they interviewed the vice president of Hrvatski Novinarske
Drustvo (HND)[Croatian Reporters Society], a rival organization with a
different agenda. Of all the indicted, Margetic, is the only one in
jail, albeit on unrelated trumped up charge. Since there was no report of
Margetic’s incarceration either the Croatian media was not aware of
Margetic‘s plight or it was censored.

The arrest was doubtlessly in retaliation to Margetic’s newly published
book ‘Stipe Mesic Dossier of Treason - Unauthorized Biography of the Second
Croatian President‘ and to keep him in custody until the indictment. The
Croatian government most certainly did not want a repeat of the Gotovina
fiasco. The 600 page book documents Mesic’s career from 1958 with UDBA,
including his Hague testimony, to the present.

There was a great deal of enthusiasm projected at the book’s
prepublication launch on February 11th, when over 200 people attended a forum that was
chaired by academics and prominent professors.

Just prior to the book becoming available to the public the publisher of
"Stegatisak" called Margetic the morning of March 9th and told him that
"a member of the POA (Protuobavještajne agencies)[counter-intelligence
agents] threatened to confiscate the books" and that Margetic should come at 2
PM to attend a meeting at the publishing house. Anticipating the worse,
Margetic sent some colleagues instead. Meanwhile Margetic called Tomislav
Karamarko, POA head, and Ivan Jarnjak, president of the Parliament Committee for
Internal Affairs and National Security, to prevent destruction of the
books. His pleas fell on deaf ears since the building was surrounded by the
police at 2 PM. That evening, at 6 PM it was confirmed that the books were
destroyed. An arrest warrant was issued for Margetic.

While four media outlets had the story about the destruction of the
books, no one was allowed to print anything because of a ban from the office of
the president of the republic Stipe Mesic. Disingenuously the warrant had
nothing to do with the book, but for an 1993 alleged crime for which he
had been exonerated. The major and only witness ‘against’ him testified at a
hearing that the charges against Margetic were invalid and trumped up.

Nonetheless, with an arrest warrant out for him Margetic went into
hiding and was finally arrested on 21 April. The police told Margetic’s friend,
who was present at the arrest, that Margetic was charged with “illegally
ease dropping” on an unnamed person in 2003. Once incarcerated the charge was
changed to a failure to pay a mortgage or loan (default) for a piece of
property he had purchased.

It would be a long stretch of naivety if anyone believes that Margetic’s
arrest was not coincidental to the publication of his book. Because of
his investigative reporting and well documented books Margetic has been thru
the revolving door of the Croatian justice system.

After a series of articles in the Hrvatsko Slovo exposing Mesic and
Racan‘s illegal dealings, Mesic, in August 2004 publicly characterized the
newspaper that prints lies and Margetic, as “anti-civilized’. Most significantly
he
ordered the political coverage of the newspaper be changed. The
following day, Stjepan Seselj, Director of Hrvastka Slovo, told Margetic to stop
writing about Mesic or be fired. Margetic elected the later option.

On 1 September, the police arrested Margetic on a rather nebulous
charge. He remained incarcerated for six days and freed without comment. Not
coincidently, the arrest came on the heels of his newly well documented
published book ‘Tko je opljaèkao Hrvatsku’ {Who looted Croatia}, which
contained a virtual who‘s who of the political elite.

Prior to that arrest, Margetic was also arrested in 2002. Despite the
arrest took place in his home, he was charged with vagrancy. This particular
arrest came after he wrote a series of articles that outlined Racan’s
government’s secret agreements with the International Monetary Fund, agreements which
members of Sabor (Croatian Parliament) were not aware of.

Interestingly, the judge who supposedly issued the arrest warrant denied
issuing any order against Margetic. The interrogations never mentioned
his arrest charge, but focused on his investigative reporting. Nonetheless
he was incarcerated for two weeks and set free without an apology.

Unquestionably all of Margetic’s arrests resulted from publication of
his books and exposes that addressed Mesic and Racan chicanery, while the
alleged charges were mere smokescreens. Given the dire political climate
in Croatia, how the Margetic affair will end is conjectural.
 

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