Journalists from Serbian KRIK convicted for criticizing SLAPP suits against newsroom

Belgrade High Court judge Slobodan Keranovic. Photo collage by KRIK, based on RTS screenshot, used with permission.

This story by Meri Jordanovska was originally published by Meta.mk. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and Metamorphosis Foundation.

“This ruling makes it clear that SLAPPs have become the regime’s main tool for shutting down the few remaining independent media outlets. Things have gone so far that we are no longer even allowed to complain in public about the fact that our newsroom is flooded with lawsuits – we are found guilty even for that,” stated KRIK’s editor-in-chief Stevan Dojčinović. He also took to Twitter to explain:

Tweet by Stevan Dojčinović: “Very bad news. KRIK was convicted literally only because we published a text listing who had sued us.
In today's Serbia one can't even defend themselves, or to talk about it.
You are only allowed to suffer as they trample over you and  keep quiet.
However, even this lawsuit won't stop us.
The fight goes on.”

Quoted tweet by KRIK:
Inhe verdict in which he convicted KRIK, judge Keranović justified it by listing issues which are not part of the text at all. Besides, he denies the existence of #SLAPP lawsuits — claiming that “anyone can press charges.”

Serbian non-profit organization KRIK (Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, the acronym in Serbian also means “cry” or “scream”), known for its investigative stories and investigative journalism awards, and also its vocal criticism of the government, was sentenced by the High Court in Belgrade for publishing an article listing some of the lawsuits its newsroom has previously faced.

These lawsuits, as described by the Council of Europe, are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), with the aim to intimidate, generate unmanageable legal fees, or simply exhaust the defendants.

The journalists of KRIK were convicted by the Belgrade High Court judge Slobodan Keranović, and KRIK submitted an appeal to the Court of Appeals in Belgrade.

Judge Keranović had previously made headlines in January 2017 after his court sentenced another publication, the weekly NIN, to pay an estimated EUR 2,500 in damages to then-Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović who sued the magazine for defamation. The trial against NIN consisted of only one hearing, and independent media ironically deemed it “the most efficient trial in Serbian history.

NIN, an acronym for “Nedeljne informativne novine” (Weekly Informative Newspaper), gained a reputation as one of the most influential news magazines in Yugoslavia during the 1970s and 1980s. It presents commentary and opinion pieces by leading intellectuals, combined with news reporting and other articles.

KRIK is one of the most respected investigative media outlets in the Balkans. It is a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, and its journalists have received numerous domestic and international professional awards.

“The judgement clearly indicates that SLAPP lawsuits have become the main tool of the regime for closing down the few independent media left. Things have gone so far that we cannot even complain publicly that our newsroom is flooded with lawsuits — we have been convicted even for that,” stated Dojčinović.

Screenshot of the KRIK article “KRIK buried under lawsuits by people close to the regime.”

The article in question was published in KRIK a year and a half ago under the headline “KRIK buried under lawsuits by people close to the regime.” It listed everyone who has sued the newsroom in an attempt to silence its journalists, adding that the so-called SLAPP lawsuits were usually initiated by people close to the government. He said that KRIK was sued by Police Chief Goran Živković, and two of his colleagues from the Police Unit for Witness Protection. After that, all three of them sued KRIK again for disclosing that they had sued the newsroom.

The Court ruled that the journalists must pay RSD 374,200 (EUR 3,200 or USD 3,643) to the police officers for mental anguish plus inflicted costs and ordered the part of the article mentioning the lawsuit of the police officers to be deleted.

This is the second judgement against the Serbian media outlet — in November 2022, a judge ruled against them in an appeal case by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Bratislav Gašić.

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