Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Calls for Tough Contempt Punishment

By Katy Glassborow in The Hague (TU No 485, 19-Jan-07)
The chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has recommended that journalist Domagoj Margetic be sentenced to six months in prison and fined 50,000 euro for contempt of court, after he published the names of 48 protected witnesses due to give evidence in the trial against Bosnian Croat general Tihomir Blaskic.

Del Ponte said that the “magnitude and implications arising from such egregious conduct”, distinguished this case from “any other contempt case heard by the tribunal to date”.

Margetic, a Croatian freelance journalist, admits to having published the witness list on his own website between July and August 2006. The prosecution has told the judges that “the accused knew the information was protected when he published the list”.

According to prosecutors, it contained handwritten annotations that it was “confidential” and “not for distribution”.

Nevertheless, the prosecutors quoted Margetic as saying, “I am not bound by any obligation to protect a secret… My duty, when I come into possession of such information, is to make it public, accessible to everyone.”

In an official statement, Margetic said he wanted to reveal to the world that “some witnesses were in fact mujahadin, or better known to the world as ‘terrorists’. In the light of the anniversary of 9/11, it is important for the public to know with whom the ICTY were working to prosecute Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic”.

Prosecutors argue that this sends a clear message to witnesses that they are considered enemies and branded as “terrorists” for the “mere fact that they are testifying in the Blaskic case”.

In August 2006, Margetic wrote to the ICTY and Zagreb County Court that “I give you my word that I will never again disclose or in any way use confidential ICTY information. I have learned my lesson from this whole affair, and promise that I will never again violate ICTY rules and orders in any way”.

Prosecutors are now stressing that the damage Margetic has done is serious; has led to witnesses suffering psychological trauma; and left some unwilling to testify before the courts.

One witness is undergoing psychological treatment, while others, as the prosecutors say, now “live in constant fear for their safety and security and that of their family members.

Del Ponte has urged the trial chamber to consider the ‘gravity of the contempt and the need to deter repetition and similar conduct by others’”.

The chief prosecutor even said that “it is incumbent upon the tribunal” to take steps to ensure that there is “no repetition of such irresponsible conduct” by Margetic or any other.

However, Margetic's defence insist that the fault is with the tribunal's prosecutors, whom they blame for making "two lists of protected witnesses in the Blaskic case public" last year, in the contempt of court trial of Croatian journalist Josip Jovic. After that, say Margetic's lawyers, the judges speedily took the decision to make the lists confidential again.

In the closing submissions of the defence in the Margetic case on December 15, 2006, attorney Veljko Miljevic described this incident as a “prosecution error and serious neglect of the prosecutor” which shows that his client was not guilty.

Miljevic insists that a prosecution employee, not a journalist, should be held responsible for this “negligence”.

Nonetheless, prosecutors maintain that the witness list was clearly never intended to be a public document, since it was admitted as a “confidential trial chamber exhibit” in the Jovic case in July 2006.

They point out that prosecutors do not have the powers to “change the status” of confidential documents, and that any document which is clearly marked as confidential cannot be published under any circumstance.

A judgement was expected to be handed down this week, but a spokesperson for the tribunal said that this is now scheduled for some time in February.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?