Zeljko Peratovic, a leading Croatian journalist who was badly beaten and nearly strangled in his home near the central city of Karlovac by three men in May 2015, has just been notified by letter that the Karlovac county prosecutor has closed the murder attempt investigation for lack of evidence. But the three men who were arrested the day after the attack and then quickly released have been placed under investigation by the Karlovac municipal prosecutor for attempted grievous bodily harm, home invasion and material damage. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) takes note of these charges and urges the Croatian authorities to pursue the proceedings to the end, so that those responsible for this brutal attack on Peratovic are brought to trial and convicted.
RSF’s Croatia correspondent and winner of a 2014 investigative journalism prize awarded by the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND), Peratovic was traumatized by the attack and has been in hiding ever since. His assailants, who were complete strangers to him, accosted him outside his home in the village of Pokupska Luka on 28 May 2015. After insulting him, they chased him inside, beat him up and tried to strangle him. The authorities subsequently identified them – two of them with same name - as Vladimir Čunko, born 1950, Vladimir Čunko, born 1977, and Zihnija Grahović, born 1966. Peratovic was hospitalized with multiple injuries, including head injuries, after the attack, and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the HND all condemned the attack and urged the Croatian authorities to arrest and try the perpetrators. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the attack as “unacceptable” and an alert was registered with the Council of Europe. “Nine months later, the Croatian authorities have still not condemned this attack and the local judicial system is taking a long time to do its job, namely to try the alleged perpetrators, who are meanwhile as free as birds,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk in Brussels. “This impunity is intolerable. Croatia has a duty to do everything necessary to protect its journalists. Media freedom is the linchpin of democracy. Flouting this fundamental freedom is unworthy of a European Union member country.” Peratovic believes the attack was linked to a series of articles he has written about a corruption case dating back to 2010, in which Karlovac’s city hall official is reportedly implicated, or to his coverage of the ongoing trial in Munich of a senior official in the Yugoslav security services, who is accused of involvement in the murder of a Yugoslav émigré in West Germany in 1983. When Peratovic received death threats a few years ago, the authorities opened an investigation and then shelved it. Various judicial proceedings began being brought against him in 2009 including charges of defamation, violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation and “revealing information liable to disturb public order.” He was acquitted in 2011. Two other individuals have been charged in connection with this attack: Zeljko Safar (suspected by Peratovic of being the instigator) and Alan Horvat. They are accused of threatening to kill the attack’s only witness, Franjo Požgaj. They are also accused of death threats “against a journalist” after the attack. The “journalist” happens to be Peratovic. A death threat is punishable by 6 months to 5 years in prison under Croatia’s criminal code. Peratovic has decided to appeal against the county state attorney decision to drop the murder attempt charge. Croatia is ranked 58th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.