Standing with KRIK against abusive legal tactics

Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK), an investigative journalism outlet from Serbia and a longstanding partner of Civil Rights Defenders, has been targeted numerous times throughout its work by smear campaigns, threats, and legal tactics. Recent developments have made the challenges facing KRIK more concerning than ever, yet the organisation remains determined in its mission.

Legal challenges to public participation

Recently, KRIK faced significant setbacks as it lost two longstanding SLAPP cases, marking the first definitive verdicts against them from the Appeal Court. SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, are legal actions taken to intimidate and silence individuals or organisations by burdening them with the cost and effort of legal defence. These lawsuits are often used by powerful entities to stifle criticism, dissent, and investigative journalism.

For organisations like KRIK, SLAPPs pose a significant threat to press freedom, as they divert critical resources and time away from reporting and towards legal battles. The primary goal of SLAPPs is not to win in court but to exhaust and demoralise the targets, thereby hindering their ability to pursue truth and hold the powerful accountable.

Two verdicts in a matter of days

Recently, in only a few days, KRIK has lost two cases. In the first case, Predrag Koluvija, the main defendant in the “Jovanjica” case, sued KRIK for referring to him as an “accused narco boss” in their coverage of the trial. The court’s decision against KRIK dismissed all their arguments without considering the entire news report they published. As a result, KRIK was ordered to pay Koluvija approximately 800 EUR. In a short period of time, KRIK’s readers donated the necessary amount, demonstrating their support and trust in KRIK’s journalistic work.

In the second case, KRIK was convicted for naming individuals who had sued the outlet. In late 2021, KRIK published an article revealing that the commander of the police Witness Protection Unit, Goran Živković, along with two associates, had filed a lawsuit against them. The court’s justification for this verdict included statements falsely attributed to KRIK, such as allegations that the police officers were “filing lawsuits under regime orders.”

What is more than concerning, is the fact that this ruling essentially prevents KRIK from publicly addressing their own legal challenges without risking further lawsuits, while the court’s explanation is based on fabricated content. Consequently, KRIK is now required to pay the three officers a total of 3.500 EUR in damages and legal costs.

KRIK is determined to challenge both rulings through available legal channels, and if needed, taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“We are now witnessing a wave of unfair verdicts against KRIK coming from the Appeal Court. These two facts do not necessarily have to be directly related, but what we for sure know is that fair, professional journalism no longer guarantees that you will have a fair trial in Serbia,”

KRIK commented.

Supporting KRIK against injustice

The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), of which Civil Rights Defenders is a member, has officially designated two proceedings launched against KRIK by a judge as SLAPPs. Additionally, it is encouraging that several diplomatic representatives, including those from the OSCE and the EU Delegation, have confirmed their intent to follow these trials as independent observers, with the first public hearing in the criminal case scheduled for September 26th.

We demand recognition and condemnation of the abuse of SLAPPs against KRIK, urging authorities to protect press freedom and journalistic integrity. We express our support for KRIK and call for international solidarity to combat these attacks on investigative journalism. It is crucial that legal protections are strengthened to prevent such abuses and ensure that journalists can work freely and without fear of reprisal.

Civil Rights Defenders stands in solidarity with KRIK and will continue to advocate for press freedom worldwide.

To learn more, read about another recent case against KRIK.

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