Serbian journalists on Friday welcomed the guilty verdict handed down to former state security operatives for the 1999 murder of opposition journalist and editor Slavko Curuvija, but called for the political background to the assassination to be definitively established.
One former colleage of Curuvija, Branko Cecen, the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, said that he considered the verdict a success because it might not have happened “after 20 years of evidence being eliminated and police investigations being obstructed”.
“We can be satisfied with the verdict, but it would be wrong if it is never uncovered who destroyed evidence and who ordered [the murder],” Cecen told BIRN.
Curuvija was gunned down outside his apartment in April 1999. His family believe he was killed because of his vocal opposition to President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.
Belgrade Higher Court on Friday sentenced four former Serbian state security employees to a total of 100 years in prison for the murder.
Radomir Markovic, the former head of Serbian State Security, and security service officer Milan Radonjic were each sentenced to 30 years in prison, while secret service agents Ratko Romic and Miroslav Kurak were each given 20 years in prison.
Milos Vasic, a prominent former journalist who has written extensively about the Curuvija murder, argued that even more senior figures must have been involved in ordering the killing.
“I share the opinion… that Radomir Markovic could not make a decision like that on his own,” Vasic told BIRN.
Another former colleague of Curuvija, Perica Gunjic, told BIRN that he felt “relief” after the sentencing, but hopes for even higher sentences after the appeals process.
“I am glad that we have a clear verdict that explains how the state organised and executed this murder,” said Gunjic, who is now editor-in-chief of the Cenzolovka website, a media watchdog run by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation.
But he also said that it will be important to establish who gave the order to kill Curuvija, as “there are many clear indications and evidence pointing to the highest state leadership”.
“From the statements of some of the witnesses, we could see where it all started from – Slobodan Milosevic and [his wife] Mira Markovic,” Gunjic said.
The killed journalist’s daughter, Jelena Curuvija, said that the verdict was “undeniable confirmation that the state killed [Slavko Curuvija]”.
“The trial chamber sent the state a message today, that it can’t kill political opponents, and use the State Security to do it, and go unpunished,” Jelena Curuvija told Cenzolovka.
The verdict was also welcomed by the OSCE Media Freedom Representative, Serbian journalists’ associations and the chairman of the state commission for solving the cases of killed journalists, Veran Matic.
The defence has announced that it will appeal against the first-instance verdict, while the lawyer for Curuvija’s family, Slobodan Ruzic, said that the killed journalist’s relatives hope that maximum sentences of 40 years in prison will be handed down.
According to the indictment, an ‘unknown person’ ordered the killing of Curuvija, while Markovic abetted the crime and Romic, Radonjic and Kurak took part in the organisation and execution of the murder.
The verdict said that Kurak and Romic were accomplices in the killing but the direct perpetrator remains unknown.
Three of the suspects pleaded not guilty, while Kurak is on the run and was tried in absentia.
Markovic is already serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and other crimes, while Romic was acquitted alongside Radonjic in 2017 of the attempted murder of opposition party leader Vuk Draskovic.