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Serbian Judges Protest Media Law

October 31, 1998

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbia’s restrictive media law is unconstitutional and ``reminiscent of times of violence and lawlessness,″ an independent union of judges said Friday, demanding it be changed.

Six-hundred judges from across Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic, said in a statement carried by Beta news agency that the law must be amended to leave out ``unconstitutional provisions,″ such as a ban on foreign media broadcasts.

Despite mounting criticism at home and abroad, the government continued its clampdown Friday, ordering a leading independent radio station to stop broadcasting programs from a banned station, Radio Index.

B 92 radio has been sending hour-long Radio Index programs over its airwaves since the latter was banned earlier this month for broadcasting without a license. The government has refused to issue a license and the station’s editor in chief, Nenad Cekic, faces criminal charges.

Veran Matic, head of B 92 radio, said broadcasting of the disputed program would continue Saturday.

The Serbian parliament passed the media law this month while anti-Western sentiment was running high, fueled by NATO threats of airstrikes to end a government crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Serbia’s Kosovo province. The law restricts press freedom by threatening huge fines for reporting that the government deems ``anti-state.″

Last week, the government fined a Belgrade weekly $246,000 under the new law and police raided its offices, confiscating equipment.

The judges said in their statement that ``implementing the new law is frightening ... and reminiscent of the times of violence and lawlessness.″

The independent judges union formed during 1996 anti-government protests in Serbia over an attempt by authorities to annul an opposition election victory through court rulings.

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