Journalist reveals his sources: the people of Serbia

Miroslav Filipovic is facing 15 years in a Yugoslav prison. His crime - reporting war crimes.
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The Independent Online

Today is the day Miroslav Filopovic has been waiting for - but with little sense of hope or pleasure. For the past two months the Serb journalist has been in custody, charged with espionage. Today he will face a military court in the southern Serbian town of Nis, and if found guilty tomorrow, when the trial ends, he faces between three and 15 years in prison. Filipovic, 49, is the first Serb journalist to be tried for espionage in decades, and the case has become a cause of concern for human rights groups.

Today is the day Miroslav Filopovic has been waiting for - but with little sense of hope or pleasure. For the past two months the Serb journalist has been in custody, charged with espionage. Today he will face a military court in the southern Serbian town of Nis, and if found guilty tomorrow, when the trial ends, he faces between three and 15 years in prison. Filipovic, 49, is the first Serb journalist to be tried for espionage in decades, and the case has become a cause of concern for human rights groups.

The basis of the charges is a series of articles considered by the authorities to have "undermined the defence of the country". These include one that was published in The Independent, detailing atrocities allegedly committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Mr Filipovic, 49, worked from the central Serbian town of Kraljevo, 100 miles south of Belgrade, as a correspondent for the capital's independent daily Danas, the French news agency Agence France-Presse and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

The Nis military court indicted him on 14 June, accusing him of espionage and spreading false news. Because of the nature of the charges, his attorney, Zoran Ateljevic, says the trial will probably be held behind closed doors. He maintains Mr Filipovic never compromised his professionalism in any of his articles.

Mr Filipovic wrote for the IWPR about alleged atrocities by Yugoslav Army soldiers in Kosovo at the time of the NATO air strikes last year.

Mr Filipovic's story, which was also published in The Independent, caused particular offence with its talk of "sickening atrocities". Worst of all from the perspective of the regime, the evidence came from an internal army report showing that many officers were shocked at what they had seen. Sources say the report was aimed at gauging morale at a time when President Slobodan Milosevic seemed to be weighing up the possibility of launching another war, this time against the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.

His articles also dealt with the tense situation in the Muslim-populated Serbian region of Sandzak and on the case of army generals who sided with Montenegro's pro-Western president, Milo Djukanovic.

His pieces in Danas dealt with the growing discontent of provincial Serbia with the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the hardships of Serb refugees from Kosovo, forgotten by the authorities.

Mr Filipovic was first arrested in his Kraljevo apartment on 8 May, on the orders of the local civil court. The police searched the apartment and took away a computer hard disk, an address book and his passport. In a matter of days, the case was transferred to the Nis military court which chose at first not to press charges and released him. "I'm not a spy. All the stories I've written were printed under my name and spies do not do such things," Mr Filipovic said on leaving custody.

He also revealed the investigators had pressed him to reveal his sources. "My sources walk through the town. My articles are based on hundreds of conversations I had with people in Kraljevo or elsewhere."

On 22 May, the military court opened a new investigation and Mr Filipovic has been in custody ever since. The possibility that he may flee the country and or influence witnesses was quoted by the court as the reason for his prolonged custody.

The trial opens at the time of growing repression against non-government media in Serbia. The opposition-run Belgrade Studio B radio and TV station and the independent B2-92 radio station were taken over by the government in May.

Many view the Filipovic case as a dangerous precedent for Serb journalists who work with the international media. Only days ago, the Yugoslav authorities refused to register a Radio Free Europe office in Belgrade, accusing it of efforts to overthrow the government.

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