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All war crimes trials must be public, as well as the full names of the perpetrators, while the current practice of ‘anonymisation’ of suspects should end, a conference in Sarajevo heard.
An expert from the Council of Europe, Vesna Alaburic, told the conference entitled ‘The Right to Privacy and the Public Interest’ in Sarajevo on Tuesday that documents of public interest such as war crimes indictments should not be ‘anonymised’.
“At the moment when an indictment is being filed and the trial begins, it is a rule that the process is public, that journalists have the right to attend the hearings and report on it. If there is a legitimate reason to exclude the public, only in that case it should be actually allowed to exclude the public. In all other situations, completely free reporting must be allowed,” said Alaburic.
The practice of anonymisation, or making public only a suspect’s initials in court documents began in March 2012, adopted by the state court on advice from the Personal Data Protection Agency. The Agency later said that its recommendations was misunderstood, but the practice continued.
The state court also limited the amount of audio and video recordings from hearings that are made available to the public to ten-minute segments, and the state prosecution discontinued its practice of publishing indictments.
Lawyer Vlado Adamovic said however that suspects’ privacy has to be protected before an indictment is confirmed because no one is guilty until it is proven in court.
“Even then it would be all right to publish it, if the journalistic professionalism was at the high level and if they obeyed the rules of their profession. Then there would be relaxed, leisurely reporting where the most heinous issues and what is in the public interest would be presented to the public in a receptive manner, with no sensationalism, with no supportive tone and with no disgust,” Adamovic said.
The Bosnian prosecutor office’s decision to withhold indictments from reporters covering trials for serious crimes is unjust, said the editor-in-chief of the Avaz newspaper, Fadil Mandal.
“I think it is even a kind of perversion that people who committed war crimes are being concealed, they have initials [published instead of fill names] and the judiciary and the state in its processes are protecting and keeping them away from the public,” Mandal said.
“Such people should be publicly in the newspapers, on television, radio, everywhere, so their name can be known as well as the crimes they are charged with,” he added.
Helena Mandic, assistant director of broadcasting at the Communications Regulatory Agency said she thought that anonymisation brings more harm than good.
“I think the public has the right to obtain information from a trial, and I think this is one of the most important issues that has to be worked on in the upcoming period,” Mandic said.