European Federation of Journalists

Serbia: hundreds protest acquittals in journalist’s murder

A protester holds a portrait of the journalist Slavko Curuvija, as they gather in Belgrade on 5 February, 2024, to protest against last week’s ruling by an appeals court acquitting four former intelligence officers jailed for the brutal murder of the journalist in 1999. Credits: Andrej Isakovic / AFP.

Hundreds protested in Belgrade today over a court ruling that acquitted four former intelligence officers jailed for the 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) stands in solidarity with the demonstrators gathered to demand an end to impunity. The protest was organised by the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, together with the EFJ affiliates in Serbia (UNS, NUNS, KUM Nezavisnost), NDNV, Media Association, AOM, Local Press and ANEM.

An appeals court ruling published on Friday overturned the 2021 convictions and lengthy jail terms for four intelligence officers. The long long legal process has been marked by dramatic twists.

The court decision has been condemned by opposition politicians, media rights campaigners and journalists’ organisations, including EFJ and IFJ. On Monday, demonstrators waved placards and held banners during a 25-minute silence.

“The verdict and all that is happening around Ćuruvija is a heavy blow and a kind of officialization of the end of justice. We basically entered a zone where we live a kind of perfect crime, about which everything is known, and there is no justice. (… ) With this silence, we relieve our despair. The foundations of these buildings were shaken by silence,” stated Živojin Rakočević, president of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS).

“This is the message from the state that journalists are not protected. And what other citizens can understand as well is that they themselves are not protected if the journalists aren’t,” said Zeljko Bodrozic, president of the Independent Journalists’ Association (IJAS-NUNS), one of the EFJ affiliates in Serbia.

In 2021, a special court sentenced former secret police chief Radomir Markovic and the head of Belgrade’s intelligence branch Milan Radonjic to 30 years in prison. Two other intelligence officers were handed 20-year sentences. The four were first found guilty in 2019, but that decision was overturned and a retrial ordered.

Slavko Ćuruvija, owner and editor of two leading widely-read independent publications, was shot 13 times in front of his Belgrade home during the NATO bombing campaign launched in response to strongman Slobodan Milosevic‘s crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the late 1990s. His killing came just days after pro-government media outlets had accused him of being a “traitor” and of having called on NATO to bomb Serbia.

“According to the information leaked from the secret police file “Ćuran”, Ćuruvija and his partner were followed by 27 members of the State Security in three shifts until just before his death,” writes journalist Jelena Petković.

Journalists have long been targeted in Serbia. Reporters and editors critical of the authorities have been assaulted and intimidated. President Aleksandar Vucic, who served as information minister under Milosevic, regularly berates reporters during his public addresses.