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Journalist found guilty of defaming former minister

(ANEM/IFEX) - BELGRADE, March 30, 2011 - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) is protesting over the criminal sentence for libel handed down to Stojan Markovic, owner, director and editor of Radio Ozon, an ANEM member station based in Cacak.

The Primary Court in Cacak found Markovic guilty of slandering former minister Velimir Ilic. The decision was based on Markovic's comment "The Time for Settling the Bills has Come: Davidovic, Jocic, Sarancic . . . the Next one be Ready . . . ", and the satire "The Impotent Mandarin", published in the "Cacanske novine" paper.

ANEM recalls that in April 2010, the Higher Court in Cacak ordered Markovic to pay Ilic 180,000 dinars in damages over the same texts published in February 2009, for anguish and suffering due to alleged "damage to honor and reputation". The Appellate Court upheld that decision. Markovic then appealed to the Constitutional Court, and the related proceedings are still underway.

ANEM finds it unacceptable to have court decisions in litigation or libel proceedings restricting freedom of expression, particularly over critical or satiric texts about high state officials or politicians, as in the case of Markovic and Ilic. We hereby recall that Ilic was, until July 2008, a minister in the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Prior to that, he was for a long time at the helm of the local government and the Mayor of Cacak, the town in which the controversial texts were published in the first place. Ilic is also the President of Nova Srbija, a parliamentary party with nine MPs in the current Serbian Parliament.

Court decisions which do not seem to take into consideration the legally provided restriction of the protection of privacy of state officials and politicians in the case of information that is in the public interest, in view of the positions occupied by such persons, and in particular criminal sentences disregarding the right to substantiated criticism by journalists, are threatening to undermine the basic function of the media in democratic society - to inform the public about matters the public is entitled to know - as well as to additionally hamper the Serbian media which is already experiencing rife self-censorship.

ANEM expresses its full support for Markovic and calls on the competent institutions to invest additional efforts to ensure that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression applies to everyone, and to have the courts interpret the provisions about human and minority rights with a view to cementing the values of democratic society, in accordance with the applicable international standards and practices, in order for these values not to remain only a dead letter on paper.

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