A Serbian court Thursday jailed four former intelligence officers for up to 30 years over the brutal 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija, a fierce critic of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The special court sentenced Serbia’s former secret police chief, Radomir Markovic, and the head of Belgrade’s intelligence branch, Milan Radonjic, to 30 years in prison, the Beta news agency said.
Two other intelligence officers, Ratko Romic and Miroslav Kurak, were each given 20 years in prison. Kurak was sentenced in absentia.
According to Serbian media outlet Cenzolovka, the group was convicted of premeditated murder “for the purpose of protecting the regime.”
The four had been found guilty in 2019, but the decision was overturned and a retrial ordered.
Shot 13 times
Curuvija was one of the most critical voices in Serbia in the 1990s, attracting a wide readership as the owner and editor of two leading independent publications.
He was shot 13 times in front of his Belgrade home during the NATO bombing campaign that was a response to the Milosevic government’s brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
The journalist was killed just days after pro-government media outlets accused him of being a “traitor” and after he was accused on state media of calling on NATO to bomb.
Journalists have long been targeted in Serbia, where reporters and editors critical of authorities have been assaulted and intimidated.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who served as information minister under Milosevic, regularly berates reporters during his near-daily public addresses.
In 2020, 32 journalists were physically attacked and almost 100 reported threats, according to the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia.
Press freedom groups called the sentences a victory, even though they remain subject to appeal.
“The verdict is an important step in the right direction by Serbian authorities in breaking the cycle of impunity in crimes committed against journalists,” Attila Mong, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA.
Pavol Szalai, the head of the European Union and Balkans desk for the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said threats continue against journalists throughout the region.
“Before he was murdered, Slavko Curuvija was surveilled by the state, pressured by politicized judiciary, verbally attacked by politicians and subjected to a smear campaign in the pro-government media,” Szalai said.
“These are all issues which Serbian journalists are still threatened with,” he said. “If the Serbian authorities can definitively bring justice for Slavko Curuvija, there is a hope they can avoid another murder.”
Reporter Milan Nesic of VOA’s Serbian Service contributed to this report.