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Yugoslavia: Groups Condemn Practice Of Criminalizing Defamation

Belgrade, 16 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Two key European organizations have condemned Yugoslavia's practice of sending journalists to prison for defamation. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe today issued a joint statement demanding a change of legal jurisdiction affecting freedom of speech. They said libel or slander cases against journalists should be dealt with by a civil court but "should in no circumstances result in a penal sanction."

The warning said that freedom of the media is a generally accepted international legal norm and that journalists therefore must not be imprisoned simply for what they write.

The message was sent to Yugoslavia's Foreign Ministry and to the authorities of Montenegro, the smaller Yugoslav republic.

Earlier this month the editor of a Montenegrin daily (Vladislav Asanin of "Dan") was sentenced to one month in prison for publishing an article accusing the country's president of aiding and profiting from cigarette smuggling.