Ex-spies convicted of Serbian journalist’s murder

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the historic decision. (Reuters picture)

BELGRADE: A Serbian court on Friday sentenced four former intelligence officers to decades in prison for the 1999 assassination of journalist Slavko Curuvija, a fierce critic of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the “historic decision”, calling it the first sentencing by a Serbian court in recent history over the murder of a journalist.

The heaviest sentences of 30 years were given to former secret police chief Radomir Markovic, who is already serving time for the killing of an opposition leader the same year, and Milan Radonjic, who was in charge of Belgrade’s intelligence branch, Beta news agency reported.

The court also gave terms of 20 years to former intelligence officers Ratko Romic and fugitive Miroslav Kurak, who was sentenced in absentia.

The four men were found guilty of having “on the orders of an unknown person killed the journalist Slavko Curuvija,” Judge Snezana Jovanovic was quoted by Beta as saying.

Curuvija was shot dead 14 times in front of his home in central Belgrade in April 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia aimed at stopping its crackdown on the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo.

At the time, he was the editor and owner of Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin, two of the leading independent publications in the country.

His family has accused Milosevic, who was notorious for efforts to cripple critical media, of personally ordering the killing.

“The justice system must continue its efforts and condemn all those involved, including the person who ordered Slavko Curujiva’s murder,” Pauline Ades-Mevel, who leads RSF’s EU and Balkan portfolio, said in a statement.

Milosevic died in 2006 in a prison cell while awaiting a verdict in a UN war crimes trial for his role during the 1990s wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

More than a decade later, independent journalists are again facing threats and pressure in Serbia, whose current president, Aleksander Vucic, is accused of burgeoning authoritarianism.

Last year seven Serbian journalists were physically attacked and nearly 100 other media staff were threatened or put under pressure, according to the Independent Association of Journalists.

Reporters Without Borders dropped the Balkan state 10 spots in its 2018 Press Freedom index, citing an “alarming number of attacks on journalists” as well as “collusion between politicians and media”.