IPI/SEEMO Condemns Use of Criminal Defamation Charge to Pressure Journalists
Slovenia has charged Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund with two counts of criminal defamation after a documentary he produced quoted unnamed sources as saying that members of the former Slovene government – including former Prime Minister Janez Jansa – accepted bribes in arms deals with Finnish arms maker Patria.
Berglund made the allegations in a September 2008 documentary produced by Finland’s national broadcaster, YLE, and shown in both Finland and Slovenia, sparking the so-called “Patria Scandal”. Jansa rejected all of the allegations, although a criminal investigation has been launched in Finland, Austria and Slovenia.
Berglund – who faces up to six months in prison if found guilty of criminal defamation – continues to stand by his work.
In a statement issued by YLE, Berglund said that he is “not surprised by the charges,” but that he”plans to avoid travelling to Slovenia anytime soon.”
“They would probably arrest me as soon as I set foot in the country. Fortunately, Finland doesn’t plan to send me there for questioning,” said the journalist.
Jansa, whose position as a public servant allowed him to petition for criminal defamation, requested on 7 October 2008 that the public prosecutor charge Berglund.
According to Slovene law, state and local institutions, civil servants and military personnel can petition for criminal defamation, whereas other individuals are restricted to civil actions.
On 1 June 2009, the public prosecutor asked for a court investigation against Berglund at the District Court of Ljubljana.
Prior to seeking criminal action against Berglund, Jansa’s government had used diplomatic channels to pressure the Finnish government into acting against the broadcaster in question, YLE, stating in a diplomatic note to the Finnish embassy in Ljubljana that such conduct “could shake mutual confidence between the two states” and demanding “appropriate clarification of this matter.”
This pressure was swiftly rejected by the Finnish government, which refused to meddle with the media.
“The Slovenian authorities should drop this case immediately as it flies in the face of law at the European level regarding freedom of expression. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently stated that politicians must expect greater criticism than average citizens, and yet the law prosecuting Berglund was plainly created to enable politicians to evade or escape criticism. As such this unjust law creates different rights for politicians and citizens and cannot be justified in a democratic society”, said IPI Director David Dadge. “Once again I would call on Mr Janas to pursue his grievance through one of the press complaints bodies in either Finland or Slovenia.”