Serbia: Convicted killers of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija must not be acquitted
IPI renews call for justice to be secured as speculation mounts about potential acquittals.
The International Press Institute (IPI) today renews its two-decade long demand for the killers of Serbian journalist and newspaper publisher Slavko Ćuruvija to face justice for their crimes and for the Court of Appeal to reach its verdict on the landmark retrial in a fully impartial and independent manner.
IPI’s latest call comes as rumours swirl in Belgrade about the pending decision by the judges at the Court of Appeals to acquit the four former state security officers who have twice been convicted of orchestrating and carrying out the killing of Ćuruvija outside his apartment in the capital in 1999.
Multiple sources, including IPI World Press Freedom Hero Veran Matić, a member of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists and head of the Commission for Investigating Murders of Journalists, have warned that they have received credible information in recent months that the court has already passed and written its verdict: to overturn the two previous convictions and find all the defendants not guilty.
Alarm bells were first sounded in May 2023 about the apparent verdict of the three-member judicial panel, which deliberated in private after the retrial hearings concluded in March 2023. Seven months later, it is unclear why no verdict has yet been announced and state authorities have not commented. In recent weeks reports emerged that the court was poised to publicly announce its decision.
IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said: “If the acquittal is confirmed, the state’s inability to secure the convictions of the four former members of the State Security Service (SBD) would represent an abysmal failure of the rule of law and deal a devastating blow to media freedom and the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Serbia. The relaunch of the investigation, subsequent trial and conviction for the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija were pioneering developments in combating impunity for killings attacks on journalists in Serbia. An acquittal in this case would be a terrible retrograde step.”
The four individuals have twice been convicted of carrying out the broad daylight assassination on April 11, 1999, which took place amidst the NATO intervention against Serbia. Among them is Radomir Marković, former head of the SDB. At the time Ćuruvija was the editor and founder of the Daily Telegraph and Evropljanin. The first trial began 16 years after the murder, in June 2015. In 2019, all four men were sentenced to a combined prison sentence of 100 years for their roles in the killing. A retrial confirmed the guilty verdicts in December 2021.
However, after the appeal was launched in 2022 leading journalist associations in Serbia, as well as media experts, journalist groups and the family of Slavko Ćuruvija, as well as the foundation set up in his name, have consistently warned that hard-won the guilty verdicts were in jeopardy amidst fears of political interference in the work of the court.
IPI joined several international media freedom organizations in Belgrade in April 2023 to jointly call for justice for Ćuruvija, warning that the verdict would be the most significant for the freedom of media and journalism in the modern history of Serbia and would serve as a litmus test for the rule of law and democracy in the Balkan country.
“As the Court of Appeal verdict approaches, IPI today renews these warnings and our calls for justice for those convicted of carrying out the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija to be confirmed”, Maroević said. “Media freedom and Ćuruvija journalism in Serbia are already in a deep and sustained crisis. An acquittal for Curuvija’s murder – for which the family and colleagues have fought for 24 years to secure – would further damage Serbia’s standing on media freedom within the international community and severely undermine its press commitments as part of its potential EU accession process.”
He added: “Regardless of the verdict, IPI will continue to fight for justice for Slavko Ćuruvija and his family until the very end and until convictions are secured. Our global network of journalists, editors and media executives also continue to stand with all those who have fought for accountability for this murder, and all journalists in Serbia who continue to uphold the values Curuvija exemplified: fiercely independent journalism which strives to hold power to account, even under significant pressures.
“IPI will continue to closely monitor the situation and expects the Court of Appeal to reach its verdict in an impartial and independent manner, based on the evidence presented, rather than on external pressures. The rule of law must be upheld and the cycle of impunity for the killing of Slavko Ćuruvija must end.”