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Top Human Rights Activist Attacked by Government Press

May 10, 1996

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Croatia’s top human rights activist, once jailed by Yugoslavia’s secret police, is now being accused of being one of its agents.

But the charges against Ivan Zvonimir Cicak are coming from newspapers controlled by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who has chafed under Cicak’s criticism of his regime.

Official criticism of Cicak has increased since his Croatian Helsinki Committee took a leading role last summer in exposing murders and other crimes committed by Croats after they recaptured territory from rebel Serbs.

The latest attack in state-controlled newspapers coincides with a government crackdown on the dwindling number of independent media in Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic.

In the first criminal court case of its kind since Croatia became independent, the public prosecutor last Tuesday charged a satirical weekly with libeling Tudjman.

Cicak spent 25 years pressing for more rights for Croatia, an argument for which Yugoslav Communists had no sympathy. During the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia, Cicak supported Croatia’s quest for independence and was esteemed in Croatia as a hero.

But the official attitude toward him changed drastically after he began pointing to independent Croatia’s flaws.

Croatia’s chief government-controlled daily, Vjesnik, and the weekly Obzor alleged that Cicak began his association with the Yugoslav Communist SDB secret police in 1966, when he was an 18-year-old high school student.

In 1971, Cicak led students in a movement seeking more independence for Croatia within Yugoslavia. He was sentenced to three years in prison, nine months of which he spent in isolation.

After his release from prison, Cicak supported his wife and family of five children by crafting leather bags. In 1987 he was imprisoned again for two months.

In a front page story last week, the daily Vjesnik claimed to possess a document that proves young Cicak had committed himself ``to cooperate with SDB and deliver reports under the name of Bak.″

Vjesnik said the document was found in a former Serb-held area retaken last August by the Croatian army.

But Smiljan Reljic, head of Croatia’s secret police, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he knows of no such document. Vjesnik’s editor-in-chief, Nenad Ivankovic, refused comment.

In an interview, Cicak dismissed the accusations as ridiculous. He filed a lawsuit against Vjesnik and its editor.

``It only proves that the same people have remained in power, having only changed their jackets,″ Cicak said.

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