A brave man has been jailed for speaking the truth

The jailing yesterday of the Serb journalist Miroslav Filipovic is an outrage. A military court convicted Mr Filipovic of spying and spreading false information, and sentenced him to seven years behind bars. There has been no attempt to produce evidence that Mr Filipovic was guilty of espionage, for the simple reason that there is none. Mr Filipovic's crime was to be a brave reporter. He shared his knowledge not with intelligence agencies but with his readers; he wrote for the independent Belgrade daily Danas, for the French news agency Agence France Presse and for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in London, whose online reports are a beacon of excellence.

The jailing yesterday of the Serb journalist Miroslav Filipovic is an outrage. A military court convicted Mr Filipovic of spying and spreading false information, and sentenced him to seven years behind bars. There has been no attempt to produce evidence that Mr Filipovic was guilty of espionage, for the simple reason that there is none. Mr Filipovic's crime was to be a brave reporter. He shared his knowledge not with intelligence agencies but with his readers; he wrote for the independent Belgrade daily Danas, for the French news agency Agence France Presse and for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in London, whose online reports are a beacon of excellence.

Because Mr Filipovic reported fearlessly, he infuriated the regime. To make matters worse, he was highly respected in his home town of Kraljevo. Yugoslav army officers confided in him and dared to speak uncomfortable truths. A powerful article about the conduct of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo, which described the officers' feelings of remorse, was published in The Independent. It was the searing honesty of this article which appears to have given particular offence, and provided the immediate trigger for Mr Filipovic's arrest.

The jailing of Mr Filipovic provides a reminder that Slobodan Milosevic's government is desperately frightened of the truth. In a perverted kind of way, it is thus a tribute to the bravery not just of Mr Filipovic, but also to many other journalists who continue to write the truth in Serbia today, despite all the threats that are constantly made against them.

In many countries, journalists are - for depressingly good reasons - not held in great public esteem. In Yugoslavia, by contrast, independent journalists like Mr Filipovic deserve infinite respect. The opposition politicians in Belgrade are spineless and constantly at each other's throats; selfless reporters like Mr Filipovic, by contrast, remind us that civil society in Serbia may still have a chance.

It is sad that international politicians have spoken out so little against this trampling of human rights; prosecution for espionage is a first, even by Serb standards. Many Serbs still feel hostile towards the West, believing it to be intrinsically "anti-Serb". Support for Mr Filipovic is one way for Britain and other European governments to show that they are not "anti-Serb". Mr Filipovic - a patriot, in the true sense of the word - deserves solidarity on his own account. In addition, however, he deserves it on behalf of all embattled Serbs.

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