March 29, 2016 / 3:33 PM / a year ago

French journalist freed early from week-long contempt of court sentence

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A former prosecution spokeswoman for the U.N. court trying alleged criminals from the 1990s Balkan wars has been released early from the jail where she had been serving a one-week sentence for contempt of court, the tribunal said on Tuesday.

Florence Hartmann, who reported for French newspaper Le Monde on the wars that accompanied the collapse of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, was arrested by U.N. officials as she sought to attend the sentencing of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic last Thursday.

In a ruling, the presiding judge of the Yugoslavia tribunal's legal successor said her good behavior meant Hartmann was eligible for release after serving two thirds of her seven-day sentence - on Tuesday rather than Thursday.

"Hartmann's completion of more than two-thirds of her sentence and her exemplary conduct in the UNDU are factors that favor her early release," wrote Theodor Meron, the court's American chief justice.

She was convicted in 2009 of revealing confidential trial information in a book on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and was fined 7,000 euros. In 2011, judges converted that into a seven-day jail term for non-payment.

Hartmann claims her book revealed attempts by the court to cover up Serbia's responsibility for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys - Europe's worst massacre since World War Two.

France and the Netherlands have both ignored requests by the court to extradite her since her sentencing, and she has lived freely in France for the past five years, visiting the Netherlands on at least one occasion.

Her arrest, which took place outside the court's headquarters in The Hage in front of dozens of journalists and Bosnian victims gathered for Karadzic's sentencing, drew condemnation from some press freedom campaigners.

"The penalty imposed on her for her action as a whistle-blower is wholly disproportionate," Jerome Fenoglio, director of Le Monde, wrote on Monday, calling for her swift release.

Karadzic, whose Bosnian Serbs battled in the 1990s to forge an ethnically pure Serbian state out of multi-ethnic Bosnia, was sentenced last week to 40 years in prison for crimes including genocide.

The highest-ranked leader to have been convicted for his role in the Balkan wars, in which 130,000 lost their lives, Karadzic is appealing against his conviction.

Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones

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