Acquittal for state security officers linked to the assassination of Serbian journalist Slavko Ćuruvija

Photo: Predrag Mitić / Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, in April 1999, Slavko Ćuruvija was shot dead at the entrance to his apartment in Belgrade. After all these years, those responsible for the murder have not been held accountable for their actions. On 2 February, the Court of Appeals in Belgrade declared that, after a retrial, it has acquitted four Serbian state security officers of any involvement in the murder of the journalist.

Slavko Ćuruvija was known for his critical stance against the government of Slobodan Milošević, who he was accusing of war crimes and had criticised his oppressive regime. Ćuruvija’s assassination in front of his home in the central area of Belgrade has become a symbol of the long struggle for freedom of speech in the country and still remains an unresolved chapter in the ongoing fight for press freedom and human rights.

The court’s recent decision overturned the initial verdict from December 2021, which had convicted former head of Serbian State Security Radomir Marković, security service officer Milan Radonjić, and secret service agents Ratko Romić and Miroslav Kurak, sentencing them to 20 to 30 years of imprisonment for planning and killing the journalist.

The recent decision by the Court of Appeals, following a retrial, has once again taken away the hopes of justice for Ćuruvija’s family, friends, as well as for the entire journalist community in the country. The court’s decision to acquit four officers, which were previously convicted for the Ćuruvija’s murder, not only perpetuates impunity but also sends an alarming message about the state of the rule of law in the country.

“This verdict is deeply disturbing for the family, friends, colleagues, and admirers of the journalist and publisher who was killed for publicly criticising the criminal regime of Slobodan Milošević. It serves as a clear indication that the state is unable to reckon with the darkest aspects of its own services from the nineties, and that these entities continue to wield significant influence over both the judiciary and political processes in Serbia,”

written in the statement published by the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation following the acquittal.

Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident, as there are other cases of murdered journalists whose investigations have remained unresolved for decades. Notable examples include the death of journalist Dada Vujasinović, discovered dead in her Belgrade apartment in 1994, and Milan Pantić, a journalist killed in 2001 in Jagodina, a city in central Serbia. The ongoing prevalence of unresolved cases poses a significant threat to the state of freedom of expression, preventing the free and objective work of journalists who, without basic security measures, find themselves at risk.

At Civil Rights Defenders, we strongly urge the relevant authorities to put an end to impunity for the crimes against journalists and to ensure accountability for those responsible for the death of Slavko Ćuruvija, as well as other journalists. It is crucial that those who committed this act are held responsible for their actions and brought to justice.

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