The IPI global network today denounces the shocking acquittal of four former Serbian state security officers who had already been twice convicted of the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija. The prominent editor and publisher, known for his criticism of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was fatally shot in front of his home in Belgrade in April 1999.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, on February 2, 2024, the Belgrade Court of Appeals cleared former head of Serbian State Security Radomir Markovic, security service officer Milan Radonjic, and secret service agents Ratko Romic and Miroslav Kurak of involvement in the assassination. According to the verdict, which is final and cannot be reversed, the defendants were acquitted due to lack of evidence. The court had already reached the verdict on April 19, 2023, but it was made public only more than nine months later.

“We are outraged and heartbroken by this acquittal. This decision is an affront to Slavko Ćuruvija’s family, an abysmal failure of the rule of law, and a massive step backward for media freedom and the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Serbia”, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said. “This case was a litmus test for Serbia’s commitment to democracy and fundamental rights as it pursues EU accession, and it has failed.”

“This ruling is a painful reminder of the uphill battle that we continue to face in Europe and around the world to end impunity and bring the killers of journalists to justice. It also comes as media freedom in Serbia is already in a sustained crisis. This decision deepens that crisis and puts journalists at greater risk, underscoring the need for urgent measures to ensure journalist safety.”

“Our hearts are with Slavko’s family and all others in Serbia who have fought for justice for decades – a fight that we cannot and will not give up. The IPI global network of journalists, editors, and media executives stands alongside them in continuing to demand accountability for this crime and respect and protection for the work of journalists and media in Serbia.”

The first trial began 16 years after the murder, in June 2015. In 2019, all four men were sentenced to a combined prison sentence of 100 years for their roles in the killing. A retrial confirmed the guilty verdicts in December 2021.

However, after the appeal was launched in 2022 leading journalist associations in Serbia, as well as media experts, journalist groups and the family of Slavko Ćuruvija, as well as the foundation set up in his name, have consistently warned that hard-won the guilty verdicts were in jeopardy amidst fears of political interference in the work of the court.

On January 7, 2024, IPI together with the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners and SafeJournalists Network issued a joint statement on the Curuvija verdict, denouncing the court’s decision.