TUE, 25 DEC 2001 12:02:05 GMT
Keeping an Eye on Journalists
AIM Mostar, December 14, 2001
Reports of illegal surveillance of journalists and ordinary people have
sparked controversy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many citizens groups and
politicians are demanding that information on the matter be made public.
The Mostar-based journalist association Apel, representing reporters of
all ethnic backgrounds, was the first to launch such an initiative. The
association sent an open letter to numerous organizations and
institutions -- the Croatian Post and Telecommunications Office in
Mostar, the Post Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ministry of the
Interior of the Muslim-Croat Federation, the U.N. Mission in Bosnia, and
SFOR -- demanding publication of a list of journalists whose
conversations have been taped in recent years.
In the letter, the association said it was approached by many reporters
from across the Muslim-Croat Federation who complained that information
gathered in this way had been used to intimidate them. Apel, therefore,
asked Croatian Post Office manager Slavko Kukic and Bosniak Post Office
manager Edin Batlak to say if "equipment and employees of the this
companies is used for surveillance operations targeting journalists."
Federation Interior Minister Ramo Maslesa and his deputy, Tomislav
Limov, were asked to say "who is authorized to order surveillance," and
to make lists of journalists who were victims of such campaigns publicly
available. The association said it expected full cooperation from SFOR
and the U.N. Mission in Bosnia.
"We believe you will agree with us that as professional journalists we
have the right to demand that state institutions and officials take
action to resolve all instances in which journalists were exposed to
pressure. We consider phone tapping and surveillance of journalists as
being in violation of democratic principles and that the current
government, almost a year after it was formed, should no longer hesitate
to deal with this widespread anomaly," said Apel in the letter.
The only response so far has come from the Mostar-based Croatian Postal
Office, whose director, Slavko Kukic, ordered an investigation carried
out in the company to determine whether company resources had been used
for for surveillance of journalists and other people. The interior
ministry of the Muslim-Croat Federation has yet to respond, but the
interior ministry of the Herzeg-Bosna district, responding to a request
by journalists from Livno said it had no such equipment and, therefore,
could not organize any surveillance operations.
Apel also said its campaign was not only launched to determine whether
police were involved in surveillance, but, primarily, to establish
whether there had been any illegal activities on the part of the
Croatian and Bosniak secret services in the entity when it comes to
illegal surveillance of journalists. In a statement for AIM, Josip
Blazevic, Apel chairman, said that the association has information that
even after general elections held on Nov. 11, 2000, surveillance of
journalists who wrote about the presence of mujahedeen in Bosnia, and
criticized the proclamation of Croatian autonomy continued.
"We launched the initiative precisely because of information that not
only journalists, but politicians and other public figures as well, were
subject to such treatment. This is why, in accordance with the Free
Access to Information Act, we want all such instances and their victims
revealed to the public," says Blazevic. He adds Apel will continue to
press for its goal, using all democratic means available, because a year
after the change of government, the public has a right to know about the
secret services' activities in areas which are not in their
Almost all reporters in Bosnia say strange things have happened with
their cell phones, that they had received numerous messages never meant
for them and that often while talking by phone they would hear an echo.
Banjaluka media reported that most journalists in that entity were under
surveillance under the pretext that they are in touch with foreign
secret services. According to them, the list of journalists subject to
such surveillance in RS is quite long.
Some Croatian politicians in Bosnia also went public with claims that
their conversations were tapped, and New Croatian Initiative president
Kresimir Zubak said he was not subject to surveillance only by the
Croatian and Bosniak secret services, but by a number of others,
operating outside the law and totally independently, under the auspices
of certain lobbies and political parties. Bosnian media said the Bosniak
secret service eavesdropped, in addition to politicians and journalists,
senior Roman Catholic Church dignitaries, and among them Cardinal Vinko
Puljic as well.
According to available information, the secret services in Bosnia have
very sophisticated surveillance equipment, and the RS secret service,
for example, can listen to 10,000 telephone conversations
simultaneously, whereas its Bosniak counterpart, can survey 40,000
conversations at once. There is no reliable information on the
capabilities of the Croatian secret service, but it is rumored that it
has special equipment for tapping regular telephone lines and special
vans for monitoring GSM telephones.
The vans, allegedly, are located near GSM operators' relay stations and
can access easily any cell phone they please. According to unofficial
sources, the Croatian secret service got its equipment back in 1996
thanks to Miroslav Tudjman, son of late Croatian president Franjo
Tudjman, who, while his father was in power, was the first Croatian spy.
The service continued to monitor journalists in Bosnia even after the
change of government because it was organized by the Croatian Democratic
Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina and this party is still its direct
The Croatian secret service in the Muslim-Croat Federation allegedly
used to have phone tapping equipment in all post offices in the former
Herzeg-Bosna. After the managing team in the Croatian Post Office in
Mostar was replaced this summer by a new team appointed by the new
entity government, the equipment, according to unofficial information,
The issue of illegal surveillance of journalists and other people was
also discussed at the time Bosnian Presidency members Joze Krizanovic
and Beriz Belkic appointed new secret service chiefs. Bosnian media
reported at the time that Ivan Vuksic, the newly-appointed chief of the
Croatian secret service, was Krizanic's private candidate, appointed,
allegedly, in exchange for a service done to Krizanic by Ante Jelavic,
president of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jelavic, during his stint as a Bosnian Presidency member, allegedly
arranged for Krizanic's brother to get a position in the Bosnian embassy
Non-government organizations and the media have asked for the
publication of information on past illegal activities, including
surveillance of journalists, as the first test of the new secret
services' willingness to operate lawfully. To this day the services,
however, have not disclosed anything about their operations during the
past five years, and not one politician from the ruling Alliance for
Change has demanded that they release such information.
The funniest statement in this regard, said Amela Rebac, Apel's vice
chairman, came from Bosnian Presidency member Beriz Belkic. He said an
investigation would be launched as soon as he was presented with
compelling proof that journalists had indeed been subject to
surveillance. "Instead of responding by launching an immediate
investigation into the matter, Belkic is asking for evidence from those
who cannot possibly give him any material proof," say Rebac.
Since very sophisticated equipment is required to detect surveillance
equipment used by the secret services, Belkic's statement is reckless to
say the least. But it also reveals senior officials' unwillingness to
deal with illegal activities of this kind that plague Bosnian society.
The reason why Belkic responded in such a manner could be sought in the
fact that he is a member of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina,
created after a rift in the Party of Democratic Action. It is a
well-known fact that the Party of Democratic Action created the Bosniak
secret service, and that this organization, much like its Croatian
counterpart, operated in the past as an extension of the party. Analysts
believe that the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina is trying to prevent
the truth on the operations of the secret services from emerging,
because this could cast a negative light on certain party officials who
used to be members of the Party of Democratic Action.