BELGRADE -- A Serbian court has sentenced four former state security officers to up to 30 years in prison over the 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija, an outspoken critic of the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic's government.
Following a retrial 22 years after the killing, the Belgrade Special Court on December 2 handed 30-year prison sentences to both the former head of Serbian State Security, Radomir Markovic, and the ex-head of Belgrade's intelligence branch, Milan Radonjic.
Secret service agents Ratko Romic and Miroslav Kurak were each given 20 years in prison. Kurak was tried in absentia.
The verdicts can be appealed.
Ivana Stevanovic, executive director of the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, described the new verdict as “a very important step” in dealing with the politically motivated crimes committed in the 1990s.
Veran Matic, president of the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists in Serbia, called it “a very important message” for Slavko’s family and colleagues, as well as for all journalists in Serbia.
According to Attila Mong, the Europe correspondent for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist, the ruling is “an important step in ending impunity in the case," but he said Serbian authorities should “continue to work toward complete justice by identifying those who ordered the murder and pursuing their prosecution.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed the verdict “as a fragile progress in bringing justice for crimes committed against journalists” in the Balkans.
“The accused can still appeal. But if the conviction is not overturned, it can inspire justice in other cases of attacks on Balkan journalists,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said.
According to the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia, 32 journalists were physically attacked last year and nearly 100 reported threats.
Curuvija stood out as a sharp critic of Milosevic, who involved Serbia in wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo during his heavy-handed 12-year rule.
The owner and editor of two independent newspapers, Curuvija was gunned down outside his home in Belgrade in April 1999, just days after the start of NATO’s bombing campaign that helped end Belgrade's military operations against ethnic Albanians in its then-province Kosovo.
The journalist’s family has accused Milosevic of personally ordering the killing.
Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and held at a UN court in The Hague for genocide and other war crimes committed during the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The former Serbian president died in the tribunal's detention unit in 2006 before a verdict was reached.