US says Belgrade stifling press through courts

WASHINGTON, Jul 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States on Friday accused the Serbian authorities of manipulating the courts to stifle the freedom of the press.

The U.S. State Department was commenting on the sentencing on Wednesday of Serb journalist Miroslav Filipovic to seven years in prison for espionage and spreading false information.

"His real crime appears to have been reporting on allegations of Serbian atrocities during last year's war in Kosovo," said the statement from spokesman Philip Reeker.

Filipovic, who had been in military detention for more than two months, worked for the independent daily Danas.

He also freelanced for the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) and reported for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Reeker said: "Mr. Filipovic's conviction is yet another manifestation of the Milosevic (Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic) regime's willingness to manipulate the judicial process to stifle free speech."

"By such actions the Milosevic regime continues to demonstrate its callous disregard for Serbian people's universal human rights to freedom of speech and due process. Such a regime has no place in today's Europe," he added.

The International Federation of Journalists has also condemned the seven-year sentence, calling it "savage and spiteful victimization". It said in a statement on Thursday it was a warning from Belgrade to Serbia's independent media.

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