Accessibility links

Breaking News

Hague Puts Spokeswoman On Trial

A former spokeswoman for the U.N. war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia has gone on trial on charges of disclosing confidential information in a book she published after leaving her job.

The trial of Florence Hartmann, an ex-spokeswoman for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, is being cast as a battle between the right to free speech versus the importance of keeping sensitive information private.

Hartmann is a former journalist for France's leading Le Monde newspaper, who covered the Balkan wars in the 1990s before joining The Hague-based court. After leaving the spokesman's post in 2008, she published a book and wrote several articles on the court's activities.

The U.N. court argues the information she published, including allegations linking Serbia to atrocities in the Balkans, jeopardizes the court's ability to preserve the confidentiality of state secrets.

But Hartmann's lawyer claimed the information had already been made publicly available by journalists, court judges and Serbian officials. Free speech advocates, including the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, have also taken up Hartmann's cause.

Reporters Without Borders' Benoit Hervieux says the trial could set a dangerous precedent.

"The International Criminal Tribunal should be trying war criminals and not journalists. And what Florence Hartmann wrote was not a contempt of court. It was an explanation about the workings of the tribunal, and the content and desired effect of these decisions. It is absolutely unfair to put Florence Hartmann on trial for these reasons," Hervieux said.

Reporters Without Borders has posted the controversial parts of Hartmann's book on its Web site in a show of support. If found guilty, Hartmann faces up to seven years in jail and a fine of about $140,000.