SERBIA: Suspended jail sentence given to a Serbian journalist for criminal defamation

SERBIA, 27/09/2006

To:

Zoran Stojkovic

Minister of Justice of the Republic of Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

Bojan Kostres

President of the Parliament of Vojvodina

Novi Sad, Serbia    

Your Excellencies,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), strongly condemns the suspended jail sentence given to a Serbian journalist for criminal defamation.

According to information before SEEMO, Snezana Nikolic, a journalist for the daily Dnevnik from Novi Sad, was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, because of her article about a lawyer. Published in Dnevnik four years ago, the article concerned conflicts over construction sites in Vojvodina. The District Court's judgement in Novi Sad was affirmed on 21 September 2006 by the Trial Court of Novi Sad.

SEEMO, as well as local journalists' associations in Serbia, are deeply concerned that many journalists are still facing criminal defamation actions in the country. Another concern is the District Court's explanation in Nicolic´s case that a suspended sentence is less harsh than a fine.

SEEMO strongly believes that comparisons between fines and suspended sentences are redundant. Both are forms of criminal punishment and both leave the journalist with the stigma of a criminal record. Although preferable to a jail sentence, a suspended sentence encourages self-censorship and is another method of preventing journalists from practicing their profession.

SEEMO would also ask Your Excellencies to do everything in your power to reverse the decision in Nikolic's case in the event that this decision is not overturned by the higher court.

SEEMO asks as well to start the process of decriminalisation of defamation according to international standards. Journalists should not be punished for defamation under criminal law and all defamation actions should be heard in the civil courts.

SEEMO would also like to remind Your Excellencies that an open media environment allowing for the free flow of information is a fundamental principle of any democratic society.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic

SEEMO Secretary General

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