EU Watch

Man Jailed After Calling Former Croatian President a War Criminal

Human rights organisations have reacted to a harsh ruling against an activist who claimed the first Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, was a war criminal during the unveiling of his statue in Zagreb.

by Lovorka Šošić

Rights groups blast verdict in case

Four organisations have criticised the Croatian judiciary for failing to protect activist Zoran Erceg’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison and banned from approaching the monument to Franjo Tuđman for a year after calling the former president a war criminal during the statue’s unveiling. The custodial sentence was longer than the 10 days the police had recommended. The critical organisations are Human Rights House Zagreb, Documenta - Center for dealing with the past, the Centre for Peace Studies and the Citizens' Committee for Human Rights.

Court ignores European Convention on Human Rights

In its judgement the Misdemeanour Court of Zagreb completely ignored the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression and assembly, including the expression of critical attitudes contrary to current politics or dominant social conviction. The free expression of critical opinion during protests in public places is a fundamental norm of a free and pluralistic society. The European Court of Human Rights set the standard of protection of the right to freedom of expression in a democratic society in the 1970s. This precedent also protects the right to express ideas or attitudes that can be considered “offensive, shocking or disturbing for the state or any part of the population”. The four human rights organisations consider this judgement a threat to the very foundations of democratic society.

Verdict is significant in the broader context of freedom of expression

The consequences of this verdict go much further than the imprisonment of, and human rights breaches against, one man. It represents a serious systematic threat to the rights of Croatian citizens to assemble and express themselves freely. We hope that the second instance court will act in accordance with the obligations arising from the European Convention and, in the appeal process, directly apply the practice of the European Court, thereby guaranteeing fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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