Serbia: Journalists face SLAPP lawsuits from Serbia’s senior judge

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Source/Author: IFJ

Belgrade Court of Appeal’s most senior judge, Dušanka Đorđević, has filed two lawsuits against KRIK investigative media journalists Bojana Pavlović and Stevan Dojčinović as a result of their investigative work on the judicial transparency database ‘Judge Who Judges’. The International Federation of Journalists, joins its affiliate IJAS – Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, in denouncing the action and asks the court to dismiss these baseless claims.

Crime and Corruption Research Network or KRIK is a non-profit organisation established to improve investigative journalism in Serbia, especially uncovering cases of organised crime and corruption. KRIK produces in-depth investigative stories and maintains a database of documents valuable for journalists and the public.

Judge Đorđević’s lawsuits claim that KRIK violated her right to privacy by publishing her name, position, and details of properties she owns with her husband. She alleges that such information endangers her safety and aids criminals in locating her.

KRIK argues that all published information was obtained through legal channels and did not include sensitive personal data that could endanger the judge or her family. All personal data was hidden and every published piece of information was verified and fact-checked. According to KRIK, this legal action is a direct threat to media freedom in Serbia and has the potential to set a dangerous precedent where journalists can be penalised simply for reporting on public officials.

The legal action targets KRIK journalist Bojana Pavlović and editor-in-chief Stevan Dojčinović for the inclusion of Judge Đorđević’s profile in KRIK’s ‘Judge Who Judges’ database.

The database, which was launched at the end of 2020, aims to provide the public with detailed information on 51 judges’ careers, major cases and assets to increase judicial transparency.

The lawsuits seek monetary damages and severe legal sanctions, including a 10-month prison sentence and a 2-year ban on the practice of journalism for the two journalists.

KRIK Editor-in-Chief Stevan Dojčinović said: “This is perhaps the biggest pressure on KRIK so far, but these lawsuits indirectly threaten all other media in Serbia. We are being sued by a high-ranking judge who claims that we should not have published even her name, so we are now in a position to defend not only our work but also the legal right of journalists to write about those in power.”

IJAS President Zeljko Bodrozic said, ”An atmosphere has been created where KRIK is labelled, targeted, and anyone can sue them, which many may take advantage of. The goal is, on one hand, to punish KRIK, and on the other and most importantly, to exhaust and disrupt their work. They are already doing this with all these SLAPP lawsuits, this is just a new link in the chain with which they want to leash and discipline KRIK.”

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “The actions against KRIK and the journalists are clearly aimed at silencing the media. The database gives citizens the opportunity to access information about the work of important judges, and these lawsuits could deprive them of this essential data. We stand in solidarity with KRIK and urge the Serbian judiciary to immediately drop these baseless charges, and reaffirm the critical role of journalists to promote transparency and accountability.”

Source: IFJ