BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A military court Wednesday sentenced three journalists and a non-commissioned army officer to prison for leaking military secrets in a dispute over press freedom that has caused an uproar in Yugoslavia's most liberal republic.
All of the defendants were released from custody pending their appeals.
Some 10,000 people, many wearing red carnations or roses, stood outside the building housing the closed military court in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, to protest the trial.
The trial, which began July 18, created a furor over press freedom and triggered massive street protests in Slovenia, the richest and most liberal of Yugoslavia's six republics and bordering Italy and Austria.
Army Sgt. Maj. Ivan Borstner, 41, convicted of photocopying military documents marked 'highly confidential' and 'military secret,' was sentenced to four years in prison by a five-officer military panel headed by Col. Djuro Vlaisavljevic, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said.
Franci Zavrl, editor in chief of the aggressive Mladina youth magazine, and free-lance journalist Janez Jansa, 30, were each sentenced to 18 months for publishing military secrets. Another Mladina editor, David Tasic, 27, received a five-month term.
Borstner was convicted of giving the documents to Tasic, who passed them on to Zavrl and Jansa for publication in articles critical of the Yugoslav military. He was also convicted of passing documents to unauthorized persons and concealing their true significance.
Tanjung said Borstner confessed to all charges.
A brief statement by the court said the trial was not made public in order to protect military secrets. It claimed the leaked documents talked about the operation, tasks and combat readiness of army units in Slovania and that the journalists intended to use the documents to write articles.
Youth organizations in Zagreb and Belgrade joined those in Slovenia in calling for the immediate release of the defendants. Crowds outside the court building, a few hundred last week, had swelled to 10,000 by the time the verdicts were announced in a brief statement Wednesday.
There were also reports that several army officers were beaten recently in Slovenia by unknown assailants who pinned on the victims notes that read, 'This is for Janez (Jansa).'
Mladina is the most outspoken of a group of Slovenian magazines and for years has been critical of Yugoslavia's single-party regime and its armed forces.
Its muckraking style of journalism has produced articles asserting that Yugoslavia was an intermediary in an arms transaction between Sweden and Libya in the early 1980s and describing former Defense Minister Branko Mamula as a 'merchant of death' for selling arms to Ethiopia when Yugoslavia should be providing food.
The latter article, late last year, prompted harsh attacks by military officials and by federal authorities in Belgrade, who demanded that Slovenia prosecute the magazine.