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Parliament Prepares To Infringe Free Speech, Penalize Public Criticism

March 15, 1996

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Legislators from Croatia’s ruling party are proposing a new law calling for journalists and others who ``offend state officials″ to be prosecuted.

According to a draft presented late Wednesday in parliament by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, the public prosecutor would be authorized to start court procedures for libel, after having consulted with the offended party.

Unlike most libel legislation in other countries, the proposal does not specify that actual malice must be proved: that a reporter knew the facts were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

The bill also calls for punishment for publishing state secrets.

The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders wrote President Franjo Tudjman on Thursday to protest the new bill, saying it would expose media to virtually unregulated prosecution.

Croatia’s opposition also protested the draft, which it said echoes Communist-era legislation. But with the ruling party controlling almost two-thirds of parliament’s legislative chamber, the bill seems likely to pass.

``This draft is an attack on free press,″ said Mato Arlovic of the opposition Social Democrats. ``It also is so beautifully vague ... that almost anything can be proclaimed a state secret.″

Ruling party member Vladimir Seks responded that ``every country has some kind of speech code ... for those who endanger the democratic constitutional order.″

Current law on state secrets applies only to officials who reveal them.

Under the draft, journalists who reveal state secrets could be fined or jailed for up to three years. The penalties for libel were not immediately clear.

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