International Court Finds Journalist in Contempt for Secrecy Violation
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
PARIS, Sept. 14 -- The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Monday convicted a French journalist of contempt for writing about a secret court ruling and ordered her to pay a $10,000 fine, but did not sentence her to jail.
Florence Hartmann covered the Bosnian war as a reporter in the 1990s, then became spokeswoman for the tribunal prosecutor from 2000 to 2006 before returning to writing. The case against her has been denounced as a waste of the court's time and money, and a deviation from its mission of prosecuting those accused of atrocities during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
Hartmann was serving as a tribunal spokeswoman at the time that the documents -- minutes of Serbia's Supreme Defense Council -- were provided to the court as evidence. They were kept from public view because of the secrecy arrangement.
She wrote about them shortly after leaving the tribunal job even though she was aware of the secrecy arrangement, the court found. Other journalists also reported on the documents.
Presiding Judge Bakone Justice Moloto of South Africa said the 16-year-old tribunal has an "inherent jurisdiction" to prosecute and punish anybody who creates an obstacle to its proceedings. Hartmann's writings, in a 2007 book and a later magazine article, posed a "real" and "serious" risk of impeding the court's work, he said in a summary of the judgment.
"The chamber has found the accused's conduct may deter sovereign states from cooperating with the tribunal where the provision of evidentiary material is concerned," Moloto explained in a ruling issued at tribunal headquarters in The Hague.
The secret court ruling allowed the Serbian government to conceal from public scrutiny official documents dealing with its involvement in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The documents were provided to the court as evidence in 2003.
According to Hartmann and other journalists who have reported on the documents, they indicated that the late Slobodan Milosevic, then Serbia's president, and his military supported and controlled Bosnian Serb forces. As a result, they were linked to wartime atrocities including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and youths were killed.
For violating the court's confidentiality pledge, Hartmann risked seven years in prison and up to $140,000 in fines, according to court rules. The judgment noted that Hartmann, as a former spokeswoman, was aware of the secrecy pledge. But it also said the special panel took into account that others had written about the documents as well.
Hartmann's attorney, Guenael Mettreaux, argued in a trial held in June and July that journalists should not be prosecuted for publishing leaked information and that, in any case, Hartmann was not the only one who reported on the Serbian documents. In addition, he told the panel, keeping the documents secret deprived Bosnian atrocity victims of evidence they could use in seeking reparations from Serbian authorities.
Mettreaux, in a telephone interview after the conviction, said he planned to appeal and to seek a suspension of the sentence pending the outcome. From Hartmann's perspective, Mettreaux said, the issue was less the severity of the sentence than the fact a journalist was given a criminal conviction for revealing information.
Hartmann made no comment.
"It's not a good day for Florence, and it's definitely not a good day for journalists generally," Mettreaux said. "It makes a journalist who was doing her job a criminal."