A group of media freedom watchdog organizations expressed concern on Wednesday over a law suit filed by the head of Serbia’s top civilian intelligence and security agency against the KRIK investigative journalism network.
A statement signed by ARTICLE 19, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), International Press Institute (IPI) and OBC Transeuropa said that “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) Bratislav Gasic.
“The MFRR urges the BIA director Bratislav Gasic to immediately withdraw the civil lawsuit against KRIK and to refrain from weaponizing the law to intimidate media outlets investigating the nexus between crime, corruption and politics in Serbia,” it said.
The SLAPP lawsuit stems from an April 9 KRIK article 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. KRIK asked Gasic to comment before publishing the story but the request went unanswered. He denied the allegations and accused KRIK’s journalist of presenting “a malicious interpretation of the wiretapped conversation” which damaged his “reputation and honour” and demanded half a million Dinars (1 Euro – 118 Dinars) in damages.
“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 SLAPP lawsuit to be groundless and hope it will be swiftly dismissed by the courts,” the statement said and added that the MFRR report notes that press and media freedom in Serbia are in serious need of improvement.