Serbia: Investigative outlet KRIK sued by state security agency director

Press-ECPMF

02 June 2021

No Comments

mfrr logo

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is deeply concerned by the lawsuit targeted at a journalist and the editor-in-chief of the Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) by the director of Serbia’s Security-Information Agency (BIA).

The MFRR urges the BIA director Bratislav Gasic to immediately withdraw the civil lawsuit against KRIK and to refrain from weaponising the law to intimidate media outlets investigating the nexus between crime, corruption and politics in Serbia.

The lawsuit stems from an article KRIK published on April 9 which reported details of wiretapped conversations played as evidence in the murder trial of criminal gang chief Zoran Jotic, during which Gasic’s name was mentioned.

The article by journalist Milica Vojinovic reported that during one of the recordings one accused gang members said that Jotic did not have to worry about his safety because Gasic was “on the cauldron”, i.e. on the payroll of the clan leader. KRIK asked Gasic to comment before publishing the story but the request went unanswered.

In response to the article – “Political connections of the Krusevac criminal group: ‘Jotka had Gasic on the cauldron’ – the BIA director denied the allegations and accused KRIK’s journalist of presenting “a malicious interpretation of the wiretapped conversation” which damaged his “reputation and honour”. The 500,000 dinars (€4,250) lawsuit called on the court to “let the media know that borders exist and must be respected.”

KRIK editor-in-chief, Stevan Dojčinović, has rightly defended the article and said KRIK is prepared to fight the case in court, stressing it simply conveyed information from evidence presented during the trial, which was held under normal reporting conditions. The article reported numerous other details from the intercepted phone conversations about alleged criminal associations with unnamed government ministers.

Journalists are free to publish anything which is said or given as evidence in a Serbian court. The information reported by KRIK was presented as evidence by the prosecution, it was reported accurately, and the BIA director was given the chance to respond, in line with standard journalistic practice.

Our organisations therefore consider this lawsuit to be groundless and hope it will be swiftly dismissed by the courts. It is an unacceptable attempt to pressure KRIK not to report information which is clearly in the public interest. This lawsuit also comes on the back of a concerted and baseless smear campaign against KRIKs journalists in recent months which has been fanned by certain politicians.

These kinds of vexatious demands for damages against investigative media outlets burden them with costly legal fees and lengthy court battles, distracting from their job of exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account. In Serbia, such lawsuits have all too often been instrumentalised by politicians or powerful individuals to try and stifle independent reporting, as our recent MFRR report outlined.

We call on Director Gasic to withdraw the lawsuit and for public officials and politicians in Serbia to stop using insult and defamation laws as a tool to intimidate critical journalism. Courts must fully comply with international freedom of expression standards when ruling on cases brought by public officials against media which involve claims involving harm in the form of mental anguish.

As our MFRR report notes, press and media freedom in Serbia are in serious need of improvement. An end to baseless lawsuits against journalists and independent media outlets by the country’s public officials would be a good place to start.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa

This statement is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

Read news by categories:

Related news

Statement

Civil society recommendations: how the European Commission can improve the credibility, inclusiveness and impact of the Rule of Law Report

READ MORE
Statement

MFRR partners concerned about wave of abusive legal actions against Croatian outlet

Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners are highly concerned about the wave of abusive legal actions against Croatian online news outlet Index.hr.

READ MORE
Statement

Romania: Filmmakers badly beaten while shooting documentary on illegal logging

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the brutal beating of two filmmakers who were shooting a documentary about illegal logging in Romania and call on the country’s prosecutor general and law enforcement authorities to ensure all those responsible are swiftly brought to justice.

READ MORE
Statement

MFRR partners welcome European Commission’s Recommendation on protection, safety and empowerment of journalists

The partner organisations in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) welcome the European Commission’s Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media professionals in the European Union, presented today.

READ MORE
Statement

MFRR: EU action needed to tackle spyware abuses after Pegasus revelations

As the European Parliament today debates the Pegasus spyware scandal, the undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) call for an immediate investigation into the alleged use of the spyware against journalists by Hungarian authorities and urge the strong implementation of new EU rules on the export of cyber-surveillance technology around the world.

READ MORE
Statement

Urgent solution needed as Slovenian Press Agency funding crisis passes 250 days

More than 250 days have now passed since the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) last received state funding for carrying out its public service mission from the government of Janez Janša, which currently presides over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

READ MORE