The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN condemns the use of criminal defamation laws that led to the conviction of its vice president, Croatian writer Predrag Matvejevic, to five months in prison, suspended for two years. The association of writers representing members in 141 centres world-wide is protesting the sentence and calls for the conviction to be rescinded.

Predrag Matvejevic was sentenced on 2 November 2005 by the Zagreb Municipal Court in Croatia on charges of libel and offence against another writer, Mile Pesorda in an article published in 2001. The article, entitled “Our Taliban”, in which Matvejevic denounced the former President Franco Tudjman and his associates, among them writers, whom he accused of inciting ethnic hostilities between Croats and Bosnians in the early 1990s. According to Reporters sans Frontières,  in the article Matvejevic suggested that  there be an ethics committee set up to look into the conduct of these writers, whom he described as “warmongers”, “political puppets” and “Taliban”. Mile Pesorda, who subsequently filed a libel suit, was one of those singled out in the article.

While International PEN holds no position on the contents of Predrag Matvejevic’s article, and supports the right of any individual to resort to the courts in cases where they believe that their reputations are at stake, it condemns the use of criminal defamation laws and subsequent prison sentences as a means of redress.  It believes that such disputes are more properly within the remit of civil courts and that prison sentences are never an appropriate penalty.

contact: Sara Whyatt, swhyatt@wipcpen.org