The Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) based in New York, a few days ago called on the president of the Presidency of Bosnia-Hercegovina Ante Jelavic to intervene on behalf of editor-in-chief of Slobodna Bosna Senad Avdic and make sure that suits against him are dismissed. CPJ also demanded from Jelavic to ensure that Avdic can do his job without fear from prosecution.
In the last two months, the editor-in-chief of Slobodna Bosna has been sentenced conditionally to five months in prison for the criminal act of slander, after private suits against him initiated by former Police Minister in Zenica-Doboj canton Semsudin Mehmedovic and former Police Minister of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina [pre-Dayton Bosnia] Bakir Alispahic. We asked Avdic whether the sentences will make him reconsider his writing about corruption in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
SA: Our latest issue is the best reply to that question. In that issue, among other, we showed that it is better to be friendly with Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of the president of SDA, than to be smart! I know I am in a precarious situation: if during the next year I cross a street at a red light or the ecological Police catches me throwing away a cigarette butt in Ferhadija Mosque, I'll be jailed for six months. However, I think that Slobodna Bosna is a too important news magazine to be hampered by the fact that its editor-in-chief is threatened by jail! Slobodna Bosna must be published with the editorial policy our readers have grown accustomed to over the last eight years; otherwise, its existence would be meaningless. It would become as meaningless as all those newspapers that write about corruption and crime in general terms.
Look here, both Mehmedovic and Alispahic are powerful people. The former is still a minister, while the latter was a minister for a number of years and is now a businessman involved in a wide spectrum of activities. Alispahic says for himself that he is "currently the busiest member of the Ministerial Council" [the government of Bosnia-Hercegovina]. Do you recall that several months ago Semsudin Mehmedovic's companion somewhere near Tesanj beat up Federal policemen who were escorting the then president of the Presidency of Bosnia-Hercegovina Zivko Radisic. As far as I know, the investigation in the case was never completed, nor was Mehmedovic's companion indicted, all because of a lack of witnesses, even though the beating took place at a gas station around noon. Therefore, it was impossible to prove an obvious thing, because of a lack of witnesses. Consequently, how am I to prove something that every child in central Bosnia knows - that Mehmedovic has too much money for a cantonal Minister. People of that sort are experts in getting rid of a "paper trail". Their names are nowhere to be found. Another case: when in 1994 we started the magazine Bosna with Alija Izetbegovic's money (since no other source of funding was available) he appointed its Governing Board. Besides Bicakcic, Omersoftic, Dr. Enes Durakovic, Bakir Alispahic, the then Minister of Police, was also a member of the Governing Board. However, in the legal registration of the magazine, his name was replaced by that of his sister in law?! Alispahic was present at all meetings of the Governing Board, participated in discussions, made proposals, but officially he was not a member of that Board... By the way, the magazine Bosna was shut down because it was the only magazine that dared to write about the involvement of the Minister of Police (and fictitious member of its Governing Board) in illegal business... That's why I lost the trials against Mehmedovic and Alispahic, two experienced policemen!
Will you appeal the sentences and how?
I am still waiting for judge Adisa Zahiragic to write her judgment in the "Mehmedovic case" although it's been more than a month since she gave her verdict in that case. Because of that I cannot still say what I would appeal. In my future appeal in the "Mehmedovic case" I will demand that the court summons witnesses whom I have proposed in the past, above all federal Minister of Police Mehmed Zilic, and Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic. Only the two of them know who escorted money (DM30 million) sent from the National Bank of Bosnia-Hercegovina to Promdei Bank. The statement of the director of the safe in the National Bank made during the trial that some people from Promdei Bank had come in "a black Mercedes" and took money from the National Bank to Zagreb is ridiculous. It is well known that the Government regulates by federal laws which institutions are to be guarded by the Federal Police. The National Bank is one of such institutions. Therefore, the bank could not on its own break a contract with the Federal Police about obligatory escort of the transport of valuables.
What will be the fate of Slobodna Bosna if you end up in jail? Has the sentence affected the morale of the editorial team?
The morale is excellent. Although it is summer and all of us are somewhat worn out, I think that we are currently working better than ever, with more enthusiasm, ambition, and maturity. The biggest problems are of financial nature, because trials are rather expensive sport which continues to empty our financial reserves on a weekly basis.
Currently, there are a few more suits against you. Who are the aggrieved parties in these suits and what is your defense based on?
All together I am a defendant in about fifteen suits on trial in Sarajevo. A list of all "individuals" who filed suits against me is very long. In general, most of them are politicians and officials of "different caliber". These days we expect a sentence in the suit filed against me by the head of the Prijedor municipality Sead Cirkin. Two years ago, we published a letter sent by a group of five citizens who accused Cirkin of embezzlement. Naturally, these people wanted to remain anonymous, and we respected that. Cirkin demanded to be given their names and we, naturally, refused to comply with his request. Then, he sued us. Another trial in which I am involved has to do with the suit by a former politician from [Bosnian] Krajina Mirza Mujadzic against me and my colleague Seja Omeragic. I've also been sued by former head of Customs Service of the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina Drago Bagaric. Suits by Valentin Coric a former Minister of Police in the Hercegovina-Neretva canton, and Ivica Primorac, the current director of [Bosnian Croat secret service] SIS in Mostar should be filed in the near future. I have also been sued by editor-in-chief of NTV 99 Adil Kulenovic. There are a few more suits but, as I said, it would take a while to list all of them.
There can be no argument that the responsibility for a public word is important and that it must regulated by law. However, it seems to me that the amount of legal suits against me in a way gives an alibi to a large number of journalists who never engaged in investigative journalism and continue to avoid its waters. These suits in a way provide an excuse for a wimpy, unconfrontational, futile journalism. Thus, it can happen that on TV we have a special correspondent following one member of the Bosnian Presidency to a conference in Crans Montana [in Switzerland], but there are no correspondents from Plehan or Slavonski Brod where the President of the same Bosnian Presidency is currently on a mission of historic importance (return of Croats to the Republic of Srpska). I am afraid that such political journalism of ceremonial-tourist nature, as served by the most powerful TV station in the state, could become our destiny. Our people will know what is going on in Washington, Brussels, Pristina, but will have no idea who bought the company where they used to work for 40 years, who is stealing their pensions, who lives in their apartment... Because of that I think that there is some logic in that madness of 15 legal suits against me and that the goal is to demonstrate that that kind of journalism does not pay off and that it is much healthier to travel to Crans Montana, Strasbourg, Rome with the president of SDA than to write about His son who is so powerful that he practically rules Sarajevo.