Serbian Judge Sues KRIK Journalists for Publishing her Profile

Published: 31 May 2024

krik-timSLAPP hits Serbian investigative outlet KRIK again. (Photo: KRIK)

By Zdravko Ljubas

A Belgrade judge and her husband have sued reporters of the Serbian investigative outlet and OCCRP partner KRIK for publishing her name and position in a database created in 2020 to enhance transparency within Serbia's judiciary and provide precise information to citizens about its functioning.

“This is a direct hit, I guess for one reason only—to prevent us from working. They basically want to censor us,” KRIK’s editor-in-chief, Stevan Dojčinović, told OCCRP on Friday, commenting on what seems to be a typical case of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).

Such lawsuits are designed to financially exhaust and intimidate newsrooms to deter them from reporting on individuals closely affiliated with the government or other topics the plaintiffs do not like.

KRIK published the profile of Judge Dušanka Đorđević of the Court of Appeals in Belgrade in its 'Judge Who is Judging' database along with the profiles of all other judges. The database does not include any content that could endanger the safety of the judges.

Đorđević and her husband, lawyer Aleksandar Đorđević, launched civil and criminal lawsuits against KRIK journalist Bojana Pavlović and editor Stevan Dojčinović. They are demanding 760,000 Serbian dinars (slightly over US$7,000) in damages, alongside a 10-month jail sentence and a two-year ban on journalism for Dojčinović.

The judge claims that journalists have crossed the line by revealing her identity and role at the Belgrade Court of Appeal - data that can be found on the court website - but also details about the properties she shares with her husband.

She contends that KRIK journalists are effectively “painting a target” on her, helping criminals in tracking her down.

KRIK perceives her actions as an unprecedented assault on media freedom, aiming to obstruct journalists from shedding light on judicial conduct and integrity.

“Their aim is to intimidate journalists, essentially forcing us to abandon our profession,” Dojčinović said.

He emphasized that the situation, where a judge herself is suing KRIK's journalists, is both bizarre and extreme and unprecedented. Furthermore, the judge in question holds significant authority, presiding over organized crime cases.

While Judge Đorđević and her husband seek legal recourse and protection, the pleas for assistance from KRIK and numerous other independent media outlets in Serbia fall on deaf ears. Despite their calls for support, the voices advocating for press freedom and transparency struggle to gain traction in the face of legal challenges.

KRIK, according to Dojčinović, is dealing with more than 20 lawsuits, most of which are SLAPPs. KRIK journalists have faced intrusive searches of their homes and offices, coupled with frequent threats and vilification splashed across the front pages of pro-regime tabloids.

However, KRIK is not alone in being targeted by the Serbian government, although it likely tops the list with a multitude of lawsuits, including SLAPPs - a new tool of the Belgrade regime to deal with independent media.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Milan Lađević, co-owner of the publisher of the pro-government tabloid Srpski telegraf, physically assaulted investigative journalist Vuk Cvijić from the Radar weekly in Belgrade.

The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), along with their colleagues from the Balkans within the SafeJournalists Network, have condemned the recent attacks on Serbian media workers.

“The cycle of impunity for violence against journalists must be broken. Additionally, we call upon Serbian institutions to initiate thorough investigations into legal threats and develop effective measures against harassing lawsuits, in line with the EU Directive and the Council of Europe Recommendation on SLAPPs,” read the statement.

The European Federation of Journalists also urged the Serbian authorities to prioritize “addressing the rise in attacks against the press and to genuinely commit to improving the safety of journalists,” strongly condemning physical and legal attacks against their Serbian colleagues.

The strong support for KRIK and other media workers in Serbia who have become targets of the regime is also evident in numerous messages and reactions from domestic and foreign institutions, officials, and fellow journalists on KRIK’s X-profile.

While the Serbian constitution prohibits censorship and guarantees freedom of expression, journalists frequently find themselves working in a restrictive environment and are inclined to self-censor, as noted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The organization ranked the Balkan country 98th out of 180 countries in its 2024 World Press Freedom Index.