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Former president files 1 million euro lawsuit against newspaper director, editor and publisher over critical comments

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN letter to former Montenegro president and prime minister Milo Djukanovic:

Mr. Milo Djukanovic
President, DPS
Podgorica, Montenegro
Fax: +382 81 243 347
E-mail: [email protected]

19 December 2007

Dear Mr. Djukanovic,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to express our serious concern at your decision to bring a 1 million euros defamation suit against independent newspaper Vijesti and its director.

According to reports, you have begun legal proceedings against Zeljko Ivanovic, director of Vijesti newspaper, Vijesti Editor-in-Chief Ljubisa Mitrovic and the newspaper's publishing company, Daily Press, and are seeking 1 million euros in damages for defamation.

The case arises from comments made by Mr. Ivanovic after he was attacked by three men early in the morning on 1 September in Podgorica and beaten with baseball bats and metal rods. Mr. Ivanovic told media that his beating was a "greeting card" from those who rule Montenegro and that responsibility for the attack lies with you and your "family". Mr. Ivanovic later reiterated that he believes you, as a former president and prime minister, are responsible for creating an atmosphere in which violence against journalists is acceptable. Most media reported Mr. Ivanovic's comments, but you are only pursuing Vijesti for damages.

We are seriously concerned that your claim for 1 million euros in compensation is not a genuine attempt to seek just recompense for any damage that might have been caused to your reputation. Rather it is an attempt to permanently silence the country's only independent daily and regular critic of the government, the DPS and you personally.

We respectfully remind you that even if a court did find in your favour - all claims are denied by the defendants - it is well established in international law that the potential chilling effect of a pecuniary award on freedom of expression should be taken into account and that pecuniary awards should never be disproportionate to the harm done.

We respectfully call on you to immediately drop your defamation suit against Mr. Ivanovic, Ms. Mitrovic and Daily Press. The bringing of such a punitive claim by a former prime minister is harmful to Montenegro's international reputation and your country's ambitions of closer European integration.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

WAN is the global organization for the newspaper industry, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organization groups 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries, 11 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups. WAN is non-governmental and non-profit.

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