The statement by Veran Matić, president of the Commission for Investigating Murders of Journalists, that the panel of judges tasked with passing judgement on defendants accused of murdering journalist Slavko Ćuruvija “has a clearly defined intention that will result in acquittal”, has been both defended and criticised among the public in Serbia.
Matić gave this statement for the Cenzolovka portal in response portal regarding the decision of the panel of judges in proceedings against those accused of the murder, which have been ongoing since 2015. Ćuruvija, the owner of newspapers Dnevni telegraf and Evropljanin, was murdered in Belgrade on 11th April 1999.
A section of members of the Bar Association of Belgrade, the Serbian Judges Association and the Supreme Judicial Council criticised Matić’s move – branding it as a violation of the presumption of innocence of the accused, but also as a threat to the independence and impartiality of courts and judges.
Matić responded to them by insisting that he respects the independence of the court, but that he will not bury his head in the sand “when it’s clear to everyone what’s going on” and that “judges are not exempt from the public’s right to be informed”. Apart from the Commission for the Investigations of Murders of Journalists, Matić’s right to make a statement regarding this extremely important court procedure was supported by another section of the members of the Bar Association of Belgrade, as well as the Association of Journalists of Serbia.
Matic’s disputed interview for Cenzolovka was a reaction to the course of the trial, which – as he said – has been drawn out for three years without reason. During this year alone, the court twice dismissed evidence that was considered as crucial to establishing the location of the accused near the killed Ćuruvija, while media reported information about the intention to remove a police inspector who is an important prosecution witness.
The Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation also stood in Matić’s defence, announcing that “it is the inalienable right of everyone to have their own opinion on the course of court proceedings, and to publicly announce and argue in favour of those opinions, to the point at which that hinders the presumption of innocence of the accused and does not create undue influence on the course and outcome of court proceedings.”
“We believe that the exercising of this right is particularly important in cases of strong public interest – and trials for the murders of journalists are certainly such a case – particularly when a trial is nearing its conclusion, and certain decisions of panels of judges, viewed summarily, leave room for fear that they are exposed to pressures, but not on the part of Veran Matić, rather from those who work for the benefit of the accused,” stated the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation.
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