A Serbian court has fined investigative media outlet KRIK for publishing news linking a criminal group trial with Bratislav Gasic, Serbia’s new Interior Minister and former chief of the Security Information Agency (BIA).
Gasic brought a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) lawsuit against the media outlet in May 2021.
The verdict, issued by Judge Natasa Petricevic Milisavljevic, has not yet been published. The reasons for the verdict, and the resulting fine, are not yet known, said KRIK.
In filing his suit, Gasic demanded half a million dinars from KRIK for injury to his honor and reputation after the media outlet published a report in April regarding the trial of criminal gang leader Zoran “Jotka” Jotic of the Jotka group.
Reports published by KRIK included details of courtroom events, and quoted released wiretapped conversations.
In one of these wiretapped conversations, one of the defendants reassures Jotic about his safety because “Gasic is with him on the cauldron.” Among gang members, this expression means that one person receives funds from the other.
KRIK editor Stevan Dojinovic slammed the verdict as a dangerous precedent. He called on lawmakers to confirm whether or not journalists in Serbia will continue to be allowed to report from courtrooms.
“We reported exactly what happened in the courtroom and that was never questioned during this litigation. There is no justifiable reason for us to be condemned since we called Gasic [for a statement] and we even postponed the publication of the news until the next day to give him enough time to respond,” Dojcinovic said.
According to Zeljko Bodrozic, the president of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), the verdict may indicate the beginning of a new era of pressure on Serbia’s independent media.
“This verdict shows that the government has largely taken over the courts as well. This may be just the beginning of an open trampling of the remaining free media,” he said.
Gasic was appointed interior minister from his post at the head of Serbia’s Security Information Agency (BIA) since 2017. He is known to be an ally of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Earlier this month, Gasic was appointed as a member of the Serbian government’s new Coordinating Body for Gender Equality. He was fired as defense minister in 2016 over a sexist remark made to reporter Zlatija Labovic from TV B92.
Gasic’s lawsuit is one of eleven SLAPP lawsuits filed against KRIK over the past two years. SLAPP lawsuits define suits whose goal is to intimate journalists, and deter them from reporting on events relevant to the public interest.
Image via Pixabay