SafeJournalists and MFRR partners: Full Solidarity and Support to Hrvoje Zovko in Further Legal Battle

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    source: canva

    The Supreme Court’s council decided on April 10, 2024, overturning the previous verdicts of the lower courts, which had determined that the Croatian Radiotelevision’s (HRT) 2018 decision to summarily terminate the employment contract of Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) and then executive editor of HTV4, was unlawful and the termination unjustified. The Supreme Court concluded that the verbal altercation between Zovko and Katarina Periša Čakarun, the senior editor of HRT’s Informative Media Service, constituted “an attack on the employer, insults, and an assault on the honor and reputation of the employer,” and thus represented a particularly severe breach of employment obligations.

    In September 2018, Hrvoje Zovko requested from his superior editor Periša Čakarun to be relieved of his duties as executive editor of HTV4, citing censorship concerns. This led to a meeting which escalated into an argument, resulting in Zovko’s summary dismissal. Based on the testimonies of HRT employees, both the Municipal Court in Zagreb and the County Court in Rijeka concluded that there was no violent behavior by Zovko towards his superior or other colleagues, thus ruling out any valid reason for his summary dismissal. 

    From 2019 to 2022, HRT lost seven court cases against Zovko, which was followed by the judgment of the Supreme Court in 2024.

    This Supreme Court’s verdict is full of inconsistencies, as the judicial council completely ignored key circumstances of the events and the testimonies of the witnesses. On October 29, 2019, the Municipal Court in Zagreb issued a non-final verdict declaring the dismissal unlawful. After a year, in 2020, the County Court in Rijeka upheld this ruling, rejecting HRT’s appeal and confirming that Hrvoje Zovko’s dismissal on September 25, 2018, was unlawful. HRT was ordered to reinstate Zovko to his position as coordinator-editor in the Informative Media Service of HRT. The county court’s judgment stated, among other things, that “the evidence presented did not establish that any participant in the incident grabbed the plaintiff’s hand to calm him down, nor was there any violent behavior or threats by the plaintiff. The court specifically found unproven the allegations in the termination notice about banging fists on the table and the plaintiff’s behavior that ‘frightened’ five female employees and created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive environment for the defendant.” After losing two court cases, HRT requested the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia to review the verdict.

    The Supreme court’s stands are in contrast to the two lower court instances which, after examining the evidence, ruled that “the court, based on factual determinations, concludes that there was a breakdown in communication between the plaintiff and his superior, but the extent does not justify a summary dismissal.”

    Hrvoje Zovko plans to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision with a constitutional complaint and will continue his legal battle before the Constitutional Court. Given that Zovko’s employment at HRT was terminated shortly after he assumed the role of president of the CJA and opposed censorship control over journalistic work at the public broadcaster, the Croatian Journalists’ Association reiterates its support for its president and all its members, pledging to use all  available means to ensure the legal protection of their professional and employment rights.

    The SafeJournalist network and MFRR partner organisations give full support to Hrvoj Zovko, CJA and Croatian journalists in the fight to report without censorship and pressure. We expect that the Constitutional Court will see the irregularities made by the Supreme Court of Croatia in its decision.

     

    Signed by

     

    SafeJournalists Network

    Association of Journalists of Kosovo

    Association of Journalists of Macedonia

    BH Journalists Association

    Croatian Journalists’ Association

    Independent Journalists Association of Serbia

    Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

     

    Media Freedom Rapid Response

    The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

    International Press Institute (IPI)

    OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)