The Vienna-based South European Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI,) is concerned at the use of Article 170 of Serbia’s Criminal Code to prosecute and sentence the author of a comment published in the readers’ section of Hungarian-language daily Magyar Szo, based in Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia. The author of the comment, Laszlo Szasz, was fined for insult. Since he could not afford to pay, he must serve a 150-day prison sentence.
On 24 April 2007, Laszlo Szasz, an occasional contributor to Hungarian-language print media in Vojvodina (Serbia), published a commentary in the readers’ section of the Magyar Szo daily. Szasz criticised Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of the 64 Counties Youth Movement in Hungary, an advocate of revision of the 1920 Trianon Treaty, which defined the current borders of the Hungarian state. Toroczkai sued Szasz for insult. The court in Vojvodina (Serbia) declared Szasz guilty of insult according to Article 170 of the Criminal Code of Serbia. Article 170 states:
(1) Whoever insults another person shall be punished with a fine ranging from twenty to one hundred daily amounts or a fine ranging from forty thousand to two hundred thousand dinars.
(2) If the offence specified in Paragraph 1 of this Article is committed through the press, radio, television or other media or at a public gathering, the offender shall be punished with a fine ranging from eighty to two hundred and forty daily amounts or a fine ranging from one hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty thousand dinars.
Szasz was fined 150,000 Dinars (approximately 1,400 Euros). He appealed the decision but without success. Unable to pay the fine, 69-old Szasz has been serving a prison sentence since 20 July 2012.
Under the terms of the sentence, he must remain in prison for 150 days: one day is equivalent to 1,000 dinars.
All journalists’ associations in Serbia have reacted and demanded that Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic pardon Szasz.
SEEMO joins Serbia’s professional associations in their quest for the pardon and expresses concern that Article 170 of the Criminal Code may be used again to send a journalist to prison. SEEMO believes that insult should be dealt with in civil courts.
“I call on the Serbian parliament to decriminalise insult and have this offence pursued through the civil code,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic. “Although the criminal code does not foresee imprisonment for offenses, a person can end up behind bars if he or she cannot pay the fine. One should never go to prison for publishing an opinion. ”