COURTSIDE: Brdjanin Case

US journalist fights court subpoena.

COURTSIDE: Brdjanin Case

US journalist fights court subpoena.

An American journalist who is resisting a court order to testify before the tribunal may not have to appear as a witness after all.

The defence counsel in the trial of Radoslav Brdjanin appears to have shifted its stance with regard to an article Jonathan Randal wrote for the Washington Post in 1993.

Randal's lawyers claim that the principle of journalists' freedom of speech would be at stake if he were forced to appear at The Hague.

The prosecution wanted the reporter to verify quotes made by the defendant in the 1993 article, which claim that Brdjanin had intended to clear the Bosnian municipality of Banja Luka of non-Serbs.

Randal's article apparently quotes Brdjanin as saying that only a few non-Serbs would remain in Banja Luka after the war, to make room for 15,000 Serbian families. The defendant allegedly said he wanted to "create an ethnically clean space through voluntary movement" of Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims).

Brdjanin, who was president of the local Serb crisis staff, is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and serious breaches of the laws and customs of war. His co-accused Momir Talic was provisionally released midway through his trial after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The prosecution says Randal first agreed to testify in August 2001. He had said, "I would prefer that my statement and article stand for themselves. However, if that were not possible I would be willing to testify that the quotes accredited to Brdjanin are true and accurate."

But in May, he informed the prosecution that he had changed his mind.

After the prosecution asked for the article to be adopted as evidence, Brdjanin's lawyers contested the accuracy of the quotes, as the interview had been conducted through an interpreter.

Defence counsel John Ackermann insisted that the journalist appear in court to confirm these details, and followed this request with a court order. Randal refused to comply.

Judges say they have since received informal correspondence from Ackermann, saying he no longer contests the accuracy of the quotes. Prosecutor Joanna Korner said she might drop the demand for Randal to appear if this is the case.

Korner said that the prosecution was happy to accept the veracity of Randal's article, and had only summoned him when Brdjanin's lawyers contested its accuracy. "No-one is talking about routinely summoning journalists to testify," she said.

Attorney Floyd Abrams, representing media groups in support of Randal, said journalists warranted special status because they "voluntarily go into harm's way to bring out the truth".

He said, "Common sense tells us that sources will simply not speak to journalists if they know they can testify against them."

Randal's lawyers have insisted in previous hearings that they do not want a blanket ban on using journalists to get evidence. They ask only that such evidence should be used when it cannot be obtained from another source.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor. Chris Stephen is IWPR's Hague correspondent and project manager

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