Anti-Milosevic journalist is cleared of espionage

Military court frees Miroslav Filipovic as members of the former regime try to stop power being handed over to the new government
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The Independent Online

Miroslav Filipovic, the Serb journalist jailed by the Milosevic regime for reporting on Serb atrocities in Kosovo, was freed yesterday after a military court in Belgrade annulled his conviction on charges of espionage and spreading false information.

Miroslav Filipovic, the Serb journalist jailed by the Milosevic regime for reporting on Serb atrocities in Kosovo, was freed yesterday after a military court in Belgrade annulled his conviction on charges of espionage and spreading false information.

Mr Filipovic spent 144 days in prison having been sentenced in July to seven years by a military court in Nis for articles published by The Independent and the Belgrade independent daily Danas. The pieces contained accounts by Serb soldiers of their shame at the brutality they inflicted on Kosovar Albanian civilians.

The Belgrade court freed him because of "irregularities" in the trial, and referred the case back for a retrial. The decision was welcomed by Amnesty International which had named Mr Filipovic a prisoner of conscience. But Amnesty warned that other prisoners of conscience and those convicted after unfair trials are still being held in Yugoslavia. They include Zoran Lukovic, a journalist and Flora Brovina, a doctor.

As he left the Nis jail wearing jeans and a yellow t-shirt Mr Filipovic said: "I am glad that my release coincides with the time when Serbia is free, as all my stories were dedicated to some other Serbia ahead of us. I feel fine. I never lost hope, above all because I knew I was innocent."

In the surreal atmosphere of the new Serbia, the cameras of the once notorious Radio Television of Serbia were among the media throng in front of the prison gates. Mr Filipovic's release is an indication of thechanges that have begun to sweep through Serbia.

His family were quietly confident several days ago. Theirs is a story of simple decency that cannot be beaten down, a heroism that believes that if plain truths can be seen and heard, then they should be spoken of.

The espionage charges, they believe, were ludicrous. Espionage implies secrecy. Mr Filipovic never made any secret about his work, except in protecting his sources.

More to the point was the charge of "spreading false information" - writing about things that the authorities, and many ordinary Serbs, did not wish to be publicly discussed.

The July trial was held in camera because of the alleged "military secrets" in Mr Filipovic's articles. Sentencing the journalist, the military judge used a slang term. "We could have slugged you with 15 years, but we did not..."

There have been mutterings in Belgrade that Mr Filipovic did not perhaps hear all the stories he repeated; or that if he did, perhaps they did not really happen. Vojislav Kostunica, the new Yugoslav president, expressed this at its sharpest. While still opposition leader, he said he was against jailing journalists, but added that they "should not tell lies" about the army. Even among liberal journalists, there is something of a whispering campaign. "Isn't it strange that one person should have heard all these stories, which everybody else was looking for?" one Belgrader asked.

But Mr Filipovic was exposed to the stories in his daily life. Many thousands of young men in his home town of Kraljevo, an army garrison town,served in Kosovo. What they had seen became part of their nightmares. Through the trauma and feelings of guilt of the returning conscripts, the whole community became involved.

His wife Slavica is bitter about the Belgraders' mockery or disbelief. "They wait in Belgrade, and read what others wrote. He was in Kraljevo - a town where everybody talks. People have experienced the war. They can't sleep. These are stories from people who Miroslav knows - and I know."

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