Belgrade High Court judge Slobodan Keranovic made the verdict against portal KRIK for the article which explains all the SLAPPs filed against the newsroom and names the plaintiffs, including the police commander and officers from Serbian Witness Protection Unit. This is the first instance verdict and KRIK has appealed it. Judge Keranovic is publicly known for his quick conviction of independent weekly magazine NIN in the lawsuit filed by, at the time, Minister of Police Nebojsa Stefanovic.
“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”, says KRIK’s editor in chief Stevan Dojcinovic. This is the second SLAPP in which KRIK was fined – as previously we have lost a case, at the first instance, against Serbian Minister of the Interior Bratislav Gasic.
Author: Bojana Jovanovic
Faced with an avalanche of unfounded lawsuits, a year and a half ago portal KRIK has published an article in which it was listed who sued its reporters and the outlet, stating that these SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) were mostly filed by people close to the current regime in Serbia and that their goals were to silence the journalists.
Among other names mentioned in that article, it was stated that KRIK was sued by the police commander Goran Zivkovic and two of his colleagues from the Witness Protection Unit, because of the investigation KRIK has done about them. Soon after, all three sued KRIK again, because we publicly announced that they were suing us.
KRIK’s journalists had the misfortune that this new case was assigned to Slobodan Keranovic, judge who was already known to the public for convictions against independent media. In 2016, after only one month since the lawsuit was filed, he fined magazine NIN in the case against former Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic. That verdict was overturned on appeal since the judges of the higher instance stated that Keranovic incorrectly applied the provisions of the law.
Later on, the portal “021” from Novi Sad also complained about Keranovic’s verdict, when he imposed a large fine on them as they were sued for publishing one photo (for which they had a verbal agreement). Portal “Pistaljka” filed a disciplinary report against this judge to Serbian High Judicial Council, claiming that he had dragged out and delayed the decision regarding protection of one whistle blower.
KRIK was also previously faced with a controversial decision made by judge Keranovic. It was the court case launched against KRIK by former minister Nenad Popovic, when judge Keranovic accepted minister’s request to “freeze” the proceedings – even though there was no legal ground for it.
Now, Keranovic has found KRIK and its journalists guilty, and much like in magazine NIN’s case the verdict was made very quickly, after only one hearing.
He ruled that the journalists must pay the police officers the amount of 374,200 dinars (almost 3,200 euros) for damages for alleged emotional pain and for trial expenses, but he also ordered that the part of KRIK’s article that mentions the policemen’s lawsuit must be deleted from our website.
Perhaps the most problematic part is that in the explanation of the judgment, Keranovic stated things that are not even mentioned in KRIK’s article.
Thus, the judge claimed that KRIK has presented the policemen as ‘puppets’ of the regime, who are acting in accordance with unethical instructions, and that they are in leading positions only because they are allegedly tied to the “regime” – which is not stated anywhere in KRIK’s article, readers can see that for themselves at this link.
In addition to this, he did not take into account the verdict from the first court case which those police officers had filed against KRIK. In that verdict, which was published in January this year, it was ruled that police officers had no grounds to sue KRIK’s journalists and that our research about them was in the public interest.
Finally, Keranovic even denies the existence of SLAPPs in the sense of how they are understood internationally (as lawsuits that are deliberately filed to put pressure on the media), since he claimed in his verdict that “anyone can sue”.
This is the first instance verdict and KRIK has appealed it to the Court of Appeal in Belgrade.
“SLAPPs, as well as judges like Keranovic, are currently the biggest threat to media freedom in Serbia. In his verdict he defended the police officers who sued us more forcefully than their lawyer did during the trial. He even added things that are not mentioned in our article or in the lawsuit, just so he can find us guilty”, explains KRIK’s editor Stevan Dojcinovic.
“It is unbelievable that we lost this case, even with Keranovic as a judge. There was no basis for the police to sue us. Of course, we have the right to publicly complain about being sued, as well as to call that lawsuit a SLAPP because it really did put a pressure on the newsroom. With his verdict, Keranovic has just confirmed that this is indeed a SLAPP.”