The Croatian Journalists’ Association (Hrvatsko novinarsko društvo, HND) has established the Centre for Protection of Freedom of Expression to ensure and improve legal protection of journalists. It has also invited interested lawyers and other professionals wishing to help protect freedom of expression to join the project.
With the newly established centre, journalists will receive legal assistance in criminal or misdemeanor cases brought against them for expressing their views about a certain events, phenomenon, persons, subject matters or activities. It will also render assistance to journalists who refuse to prepare, write or participate in the preparation of an article whose content is in violation of the rules of journalism.
The project made its debut at the HND office on July 2, 2015 and was presented by HND president, Sasa Lekovic; lawyers Emil Havkic, Vesna Alaburic and Vanja Juric; and assistant lecturer, Iva Kustrak Managic of the Zagreb Faculty of Law.
According to Lekovic, “The main purpose of the Centre is to provide legal and any other assistance to HND members and all other journalists when they are taken to court or when their rights in their own organisations are violated or in emergency situations when they are victims of threats or physical violence.” Lekovic also stressed the fact that the centre is a project within the HND and not a separate body.
In June 2015, Croatian high level representatives from Parliament, government, police and justice received several letters from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) in cooperation with HND expressing its great concern for the safety of freelance journalist, Željko Peratović and requesting official protection for him.
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, president of the EFJ expressing the group’s concerns said:“We are noting the increased physical threats and intimidation against journalists in the Balkans, in a context of impunity“, adding “We are concerned about the increased lack of respect for journalists’ rights in Croatia.”
The establishment of the Centre was supported by the EFJ and it would conduct training sessions for journalists about legal protection, and round-table discussions and workshops would also be held. For now, assistance will be provided on a pro bono basis and later on, the project will be financed by donations received.