Slovenian police summoned journalist Biserka Karneza Cerjak in for questioning on 24 November, following criminal defamation allegations made against her by Bojan Srot, mayor of Slovenia’s third largest city and leader of the Slovenian People’s Party (SLS). The allegations, which relate to a May 2008 Reporter magazine item that Srot considers “bombastic,” have been made under article 171 of the Slovenian Criminal Code – the same article former Prime Minister Janez Janša is currently using to pursue charges against Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund. If found guilty, Karneza Cerjak could face up to one year in prison.
“This latest case is another example of how public officials in Slovenia abuse such laws to silence the media,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “When it comes to the handling of defamation, Slovenia is sorely out of step with the rest of the European Union. No journalist should face the possibility of prison for practicing their profession, particularly in a modern democracy such as Slovenia.”
Srot’s complaint related to statements written about him in his position as mayor of Celje in an article dating back to 26 May 2008. In the article, Karneza Cerjak made allegations concerning Srot’s business activities. The police are now investigating the matter.
Although most European Union countries retain some form of criminal defamation legislation, such laws are rarely used, in favour of appeals to domestic press councils or civil proceedings. In the case of Karneza Cerjak, however, Srot bypassed both the Slovenian Journalists’ Court of Honour and any form of civil redress. Mayor Srot has been unavailable for comment on the matter.
The criminal libel investigation into Karneza Cerjak is only the most recent example of criminal defamation measures taken against journalists in Slovenia. In February, a group of Slovenian citizens attempted to bring criminal defamation charges against the journalists who initiated a 2007 petition against government interference in the media, claiming that the petition defamed the nation. In October, then-prime minister Janez Janša filed criminal charges against Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund for alleging his involvement in a corruption scandal. This recent wave of criminal defamation charges in Slovenia comes at around the same time that Slovenia’s new Criminal Code, featuring stricter defamation laws that increase the scope of criminal responsibility, has come into force.