Perković verbally attacked me right away. He accused me of constantly writing about him and, during this arduous conversation, he drew my attention to the gun he had under his jacket three times. He said that he could kill me if I continued to write against him.
The collection of these stories or chronicles of suffering of Croatian journalists, acts like the extract of everything bad that happened in Croatia from 1990 on. It is not only a story about media freedoms and the courage of journalists who were just doing their job. This isa testimony about the unscrupulous ways this newborn state was formed and about the abuses by officials of state institutions, as well as those who were elected and in whom the power was reflected. It is, simply, an inverted look on the need for the public to know what they are doing to it, as well as those who, with all means at their disposal, want to prevent journalists from reporting about the abuses of power and the mafia, which has, like an incurable disease spread into every corner of this state.
ŽELJKO PERATOVIĆ, 2010 – 1991
journalist of the weekly Globus,freelance journalist
(Pages 18, 19, 20 & 21)
(Part one – Josip Perković, note by ž.p.)
Željko Peratović experienced the first death threats in December 1998, he says. He was threatened by Josip Perković, then an adviser in HIS (3) and a former high ranking official of the Yugoslav secret police. Through intermediary Zdravko Pejić, one of the wartime chiefs of SZUP (4) in Osijek, Perković asked for a meeting with Peratović, then a journalist of the weekly Globus. The meeting took place on 14 December 1998 at 1:30 pm in the restaurant Plitvička kuća in the motel Plitvice.
“Perković verbally attacked me right away. He accused me of constantly writing about him and, during this arduous conversation, he drew my attention to the gun he had under his jacket three times. He said that he could kill me if I continued to write against him. I wrote about the controversial role of Josip Perković, as a former high ranking official of the Yugoslav secret police SDS, better known as Udba, in the cases of the murders of political emigrants and as assistant minister of defence for security in the cases of the so-called political murders during the Homeland War”, says Peratović, who did not report Perković’s threat to the police, but only to the Globus editorial office.
“Globus editors advised me to describe the entire event in my column. They thought that the public was my best protection and that the institutions tasked with uncovering and prosecuting crimes had to react after to publication of such a text. But apart from Zdravko Pejić calling me and relating me Perković’s message that the publication of this text had not been very smart and that Josip did not forget, nobody in Croatia reacted”, recounted Peratović.
General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalist Aidan White sent a letter, condemning the threats of a high ranking official of the secret police directed at Peratović, to the then Croatian President Franjo Tuđman, Prime Minister Zlatko Mateša and Interior Minister Ivan Penić. The said threats were a turning point in my career, because I took them seriously and will never forget them. I was threatened by a person who was extremely influential and powerful in the society”, says Peratović.
(Part two – Munib Suljić)
Peratović experienced a physical assault on 14 September 1999, in Mandalić Street in Zagreb, when he was intercepted and pushed against the wall by Munib Suljić (5), one of the members of the notorious unit commanded by Tomislav Merčep (6). Suljić assaulted Peratović thinking that he was Novi list journalist Robert Frank, who had recently, on the show Latinica, testified about the brutal beating he had received in Mostar because of his texts about the atrocities in Gospić and the economic crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Peratović reported the assault to the police and Munib Suljić was fined 662 kunas for disturbing the peace. HND filed a criminal report against Suljić because of the threats, and in 2002, Suljić was sentenced to five months in prison with a year of probation. “Today I am glad that I reported Suljić for assaulting me, because Suljić who had up to then regularly threatened journalists, never again threatened or assaulted a journalist”, says Peratović.
(Part three – Vjenceslav Bill)
“As many notches as he has on his rifle, Franjo prays to Satan to cut into your child’s cunt as soon as possible – there will be less Serb bastards” – is just one of a total of 91 threats retired veteran Vjenceslav Bill addressed to Peratović via the phone, SMS and MMS messages from 25 February to 20 March 2006. In the message he mentions Franjo Drljo, who was arrested in 2009 under suspicion that he had committed war crimes in Grubori, and who would, allegedly, cut u notch into his rifle butt for every victim, and Vjenceslav Bill knew him personally. Peratović would get several MMS messages from Bill a day, with photos of Peratović’s wife and three year old daughter.
“Bill started threatening me after I testified about the circumstances of Milan Levar’s (7) murder in Gospić. „He threatened me with death, the rape of my dead mother, daughter and wife. I reported the threats to the police and the State Attorney’s Office, with a printout of all SMS messages. The mobile phone from which the messages had been sent was registered to his name and I expected the case to be solved. In September 2007, a year and a half after the threats and five months after Bill’s death, Peratović received the police report of about the case: “The behaviour of Vjenceslav Bill did not correspond to the crime of threatening or any other crime prosecuted ex officio.”
(Part four – Tomislav Karamarko)
A year earlier, Željko Peratović had lost his full time employment as a journalist. In 2005, he was fired from Vjesnik, the only daily paper owned by the state at the time, where he came in 2000, after leaving Globus. For his firing, Peratović blames Tomislav Karamarko, current police minister, and then the chief of SOA (8) and a man who has filed several criminal reports and a private lawsuit against Peratović in the last three years.
“In Vjesnik, I wrote a text about HDZ’s proposal to reappoint Karamarko as the chief of secret police (SOA), in 2004, after they took power again. I expressed my opinion that Karamarko was not the appropriate person for that post, because he had obstructed the Levar investigation. I know that Karamarko exerted pressure on Vjesnik editor-in-chief Andrea Latinović to ban me from writing. And I had to publicly apologize to him because of the information that the summer
house on Mljet was not his, but his mother’s in law. From that moment, I was being mobbed in Vjesnik, my texts weren’t being published. In the end, I gave a text, which Vjesnik refused to publish, to Feral, and they published it. This was the cause for my sacking”, says Peratović who hasn’t been able to find employment since 2005.
He hasn’t left journalism, as a freelance journalist, he publishes on the pages of his blogs “45 lines” and “Peratovic.net”, which he started as one of the first journalist-bloggers in Croatia. He writes about war crimes, organized crime, intelligence services…, and besides articles, he publishes numerous documents. Peratović soon became the subject of police investigations because of the documents he publishes. He was summoned to his first informative interview on 17 October 2007, and only a few hours later he was arrested, with the explanation that he had revealed military and state secrets without authorization, or in other words, that he had published documents and information classified as confidential on his webpages. The same evening, police searched Peratović’s apartment and took away his computers and documents they deemed pertinent for proving that crime. Peratović was released the following morning, and in his public statements he said that he did not know why he had been arrested, or what document he had published without authorization. .Peratović’s arrest was condemned by human right organizations, the Croatian Journalists’ Association and all opposition parties.
“What I see as the reason for the arrest was the frequent calling Tomislav Karamarko, the then head of SOA (8), to account in the investigation of the murder of the war crimes witness Milan Levar in Gospić, as well as a series of texts about nepotism and corruption in SOA. The police took my newspaper documentation, several thousand pages of journalistic archive material, compiled during two decades of working as a journalist, and it still hasn’t been returned to me”, says Peratović The criminal reports filed against Peratović by SOA and the police in early 2008 still haven’t been either thrown out or turned into an indictment by The State Attorney’s Office. The Council for the Civilian Control of Intelligence-Security Agencies and the Interior Affairs and National Security Committee of the Croatian Parliament responded to Peratović’s report against the actions of SOA and MOI by saying that there was no breach of law or irregularities in the work of SOA or MOI.
In the meantime, immediately after the murder of Ivo Pukanić, owner of political weekly Nacional, Tomislav Karamarko was appointed as the new Minister of Interior. In late 2008, although a minister, Karamarko files a criminal report against Peratović for spreading false and disturbing rumours. Again, the cause was in Peratović’s texts, in which he says that Karamarko was covering for the murderer of Milan Levar and obstructing the investigation of his murder. The Municipal State Attorney’s Office rejected the report and considered it unfounded for ex officio prosecution, instructing Karamarko to file a private lawsuit against Peratović if he felt damage had been done to him. Karamarko did so at the Municipal Court in Zagreb, which ordered additional investigation by the investigative department of the County Court. The questioned witnesses and the investigation proved Karamarko’s report unfounded, and the Municipal Court threw it out. Karamarko appealed and the proceedings are still on-going and Peratović could have peacefully waited for the outcome, but, in the meantime, the Municipal State Attorney’s Office charged Peratović with revealing secrets from the court investigation.
Indeed, on 1 August 2009, on his blog, Peratović published the minutes of the questioning of witnesses in the investigation conducted against him by the County Court in the case of Karamarko’s suit. Peratović is charged that he had published the witnesses’ testimony before the documents from the investigative procedure became public. In this case, too, the report against Peratović was filed by Tomislav Karamarko, who, at the same time, filed reports against two more journalists. However, reports against them were quashed with the explanation that they published the testimonies when they were no longer marked as secret.
HND and Reporters Without Borders condemned the proceedings against Peratović, because he had not influenced the investigative process with the publication of the testimonies. “Should the judge of the Municipal Court in Zagreb accept the indictment, this will be the first trial of a journalist according to the new Law on Criminal Proceedings for the Breach of Secrecy of Information and a message to all journalists who would dare to publish something about on-going proceedings, which does not suit the police or the State Attorney’s Office”, says Peratović.
At the time of indictment for revealing secrets from an investigative process, Peratović and his family have been enduring another repressive act by state institutions. In mid-June 2009, police received an anonymous report against Željko Peratović, signed “Concerned neighbours”, in which Peratović is accused of abusing and neglecting his daughter, who is now six. Peratović and his wife, as well as their daughter have been through a series of interviews at the Social Work Centre. “The police did not confirm the claims from the report, but thanks to orders from the County State Attorney’s Office we still have go to the Social Work Centre and answer questions whether our child is dirty, whether we yell at her and whether I am an alcoholic or a junkie… My wife and I have filed a report against the unknown perpetrator for the crime of false reporting. I believe that this entire case, which is something worse that has happened to me and my wife in our lives, has been invented in order to permanently discredit me as a person and forever remove me from the media”, says Peratović, who still writes and publishes on his blog (now site, note by ž.p.) “45 Lines”.
3. HIS – Croatian Intelligence Service, secret service that collected intelligence information of national interest abroad. Its founder and director from 1993 to 1998 was Miroslav Tuđman, son of the then President Franjo Tuđman. HIS was a part of the National Security Office (UNS), (pg. 18, 74)
4. SZUP – Service for the Protection of Constitutional Order, secret service founded in 1990. After the disintegration of the Yugoslav secret police UDBA, SZUP took over its work for the area of Croatia. It operated within the then Ministry of Interior. The director of SZUP was also a deputy police minister. It operated until 2000, when secret services were reformed. (pg. 18, 55, 108, 124, 160)
5. MUNIB SULJIĆ, one of the members of Tomislav Merčep’s notorious unit. He was first suspected of participating in the murder of the Zec family of Zagreb in 1991. Even though he confessed of participating in the murder, he was release because of a procedural error. After the testimonyof Miro Bajramović, also a member of Merčep’s unit and his deputy, about the killing of civilians in Pakračka poljana and torture in an illegal camp, Munib Suljić was arrested and indicted in 1998. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in January 2006. After the sentencing, Suljić fled, but was arrested six months later in The Hague. He died of cancer in the prison hospital three months after his extradition to Croatia. (pg. 18, 54, 95, 131, 158)
6. TOMISLAV MERČEP joins HDZ in 1990. At the first multiparty election, as the president of Vukovar HDZ, he is elected as the municipal councilman for Petrovci and Bogdanovci. He leaves his former job as assistant building site manager at Borovo shoe factory and is appointed the secretary of the Secretariat of People’s Defence for Vukovar Municipality. Before the outbreak of the war, he organizes village watches and acquires weapons, he entices and participates in the replacement of the directors of local factories, takes over a radio station and does para-police work, arresting people and interrogating them. During July and August 1991, more than
wenty local Serbs disappear in Vukovar and the surrounding villages.
The then government commissioner for Vukovar warns at the time that Merčep is usurping power, surrounding himself with persons of questionable morals and former criminals, and that they are jointly taking over everything in Vukovar, intruding into citizens’ flats, robbing them, taking away cars, interrogating people and even executing them. In mid-August 1991, Merčep was arrested and imprisoned by his associates. Soon after, Merčep moves with his family to Zagreb, just a week before the Yugoslav People’s Army’s attack on Vukovar.
In Zagreb. Merčep immediately gets a two-storey flat and becomes an assistant to Interior Minister Ivan Vekić and the commander of a reserve unit of Police, forming a unit calling itself “Merčep’s Battalion”. Soon they gain notoriety because of the murders committed by their members, murder of the Zec family, detainments and torture at the Zagreb Fair, and the killing of civilians in the area of Pakračka poljana. Despite all this, Tomislav Merčep figures high in politics and is elected to the House of Counties of the Croatian Parliament.
The polite started investigations against members of his unit, but Merčep was always exempt from it. His political fall begins at the 3rd Congress of HDZ, when President Tuđman accused him of forming secret terrorist organizations. He soon leaves HDZ and resigns his post of advisor at the MOI. He founds his own party, the Croatian Popular Party (HPS), and he was a candidate at the presidential election in 2000. Merčep is the president of the Association of Croatian Volunteers of the Homeland War. In 2001, six of Merčep’s followers were indicted for war crimes in Pakračka poljana, and in December 2010, Tomislav Merčep was arrested on suspicion that he had committed war crimes against civilian population from October to mid-December of 1991 in Pakračka poljana and Zagreb. (pg. 18, 53, 95, 131, 158)
7. MILAN LEVAR, former Homeland War volunteer, who, in 1997, testified to investigators from the International Tribunal in The Hague about war crimes against Serb population, in the Medak Pocket operation in Gospić in 1991. According to one source, at least 63 people disappeared in Gospić at that time, and 120 according to another. Levar claimed that the worst crimes had happened after the successful defence of the town, upon the arrival of General Mirko Norac and Tihomir Orešković, secretary of the Crisis Staff for Lika. Levar frequently received death threats; a hand grenade was even planted in front of his mother’s house. Milan Levar was killed by an explosive device on 28 August 2000, at 3:45 pm, before the eyes of his 10-year-old son, in the front yard of his house in Gospić. The perpetrators haven’t been found. (pg. 19, 34, 56)
8. SOA – Security-Intelligence Agency, central state institution of the Republic of Croatia tasked with the collection, analysis, processing and assessment of information of importance for the national security. SOA was created in 2006 by the merger of the Counterintelligence Agency (POA)and the Intelligence Agency (OA), with the enactment of the Law on the Security-Intelligence System of Croatia. Its current director is Josip Buljević (pg. 19, 108)
I especially thank my colleagues from Association of Croatian Investigative Journalists that they are me allowed to transfer parts of their books The White Paper – A Chronicle of Threats and Assaults on Journalists in Croatia 1990 – 2011 / Zagreb, March, 2011.