The lawyer for a former Yugoslav war crimes tribunal spokeswoman told UN judges yesterday they would be reining in free speech if they convicted his client of deliberately breaching confidentiality orders.
Florence Hartmann went on trial yesterday at the tribunal, accused of contempt for allegedly publishing details of orders made during the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in a book and an article.
Critics call the case an attack on free speech but court supporters believe it is vital to show that the tribunal can preserve the confidentiality of state secrets.
"It is critical not to overly extend the envelope ... of criminal responsibility so that it would stymie freedom of speech," Hartmann's lawyer Karim Khan told the judges.
Outside the court, about 20 protesters unfurled a banner with the text: "Sentence the criminals of war not the journalists!" and handed a petition signed by 3,502 people urging judges to acquit Hartmann. Tribunal security staff ushered them away from the court to a demonstration area on the other side of a busy road.
Prosecutors say Hartmann deliberately revealed confidential decisions made during Milosevic's trial not to publicize documents that might have helped Bosnia as it sued Serbia for genocide after the 1991-1995 Balkan wars.
"Evidence will show that her own words ... in essence were a statement of defiance," said Bruce MacFarlane, a Canadian appointed as an independent prosecutor by the court.
The actual documents — minutes of Serbia's Supreme Defense Council which are still not public — allegedly link Belgrade to atrocities such as the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
Serbia agreed to give the documents to the war crimes court on condition that they only be used confidentially during the Milosevic trial.
But Khan told the three-judge panel that his client did nothing wrong because the information had already been revealed by other journalists, Serbian officials and even judges at the court. Khan said Hartmann never even read the orders until prosecutors gave them to her.
Alex Whiting, a former tribunal prosecutor who now teaches law at Harvard, said the case was important to demonstrate the court will back up confidentiality orders.
"Without commenting on the merits of this specific case, these kinds of cases are extraordinarily important because they enhance the integrity and credibility of the court," Whiting said.