SERBIA: Serbian Defamation Provisions

SERBIA, 26/03/2001

The South East European Media Organisation (SEEMO) today released a report entitled "Articles in Bad Faith: Criminal Defamation Laws in Serbia". The report highlights the repressive nature of criminal laws in this area and urges the Serbian government to review and amend articles in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia concerning freedom of expression.

IPI and SEEMO said that these articles should be repealed, noting that defamation should be dealt with under civil law and that so-called insult laws have been used by repressive regimes to silence journalists reporting critically on the management of government affairs. The two organisations pointed to the importance of repealing these articles since they were used by the previous administration to stifle dissident views. In their letter to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, IPI and SEEMO stressed the need to establish a free and independent media which is "the foundation on which to build a democratic society".

The Secretary General of SEEMO, Oliver Vujovic, said that "the first and most important step for the new administration is to create a climate in which a free and independent media can flourish." He added, "the lack of freedom of the media during the Milosovic regime shows the importance of establishing such a climate since a repressive regime can only survive by limiting the free flow of information."

The Director of IPI, Johann P. Fritz, said that "unfortunately, in many parts of the world defamation is still treated as a criminal offence forcing many journalists to resort to self-censorship". The Director added that "as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the  Republic of Serbia moves towards taking their rightful place among Europe's democracies, the decision to repeal these laws would not only bring legislation into line with international standards but it would also send a strong message to other countries that there is no place for these repressive laws in a democracy, irrespective of the frequency of their application."

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