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Serbian mayor files billion dollar lawsuit against newspaper

(IPI/IFEX) - 24 January 2013 -The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), today appealed to Dragan Djilas, mayor of the city of Belgrade and president of the Democratic Party in Serbia, to drop his 120-billion-dinar (€1.05 billion) lawsuit against Serbian daily Kurir and its editor-in-chief, Sasa Milovanovic.

“I hope that Djilas started this case like a joke, and not as a serious court case,” SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said. “I hope this especially after the statement he gave to the news agency Tanjug, as quoted by B92.”

Djilas told Tanjug: “[T]he request for compensation is for the same amount that Kurir wrote was in my possession. All the lawsuits I have filed are for the amounts which Kurir had charged me. The amount is, of course, ludicrous, just like the ludicrous claims that Kurir publishes about me.”

Djilas brought the court case against Kurir and its editor-in-chief at the Higher Court in Belgrade on Dec. 26, 2012 over alleged “mental suffering due to damage to personal honor and reputation”. At the same time, Djilas is asking the court to forbid the daily from reporting negatively on him.

Vujovic said: “If Djilas thinks that the daily published wrong information, he has, of course, the right to protect himself. But there are other ways of doing so that do not involve a €1.05 billion lawsuit. Asking for such an amount of money has nothing to do with the protection of personal rights, honour and reputation, but is a clear step towards closing the paper and a clear attack on press freedom.”

He added: “Djilas, as leader of the Democratic Party (DS), the one pro-European party in Serbia, in asking for such an amount of money for protecting his rights, gives a wrong example to other politicians in Serbia and Europe. Djilas should use other avenues of complaint and also respect international recommendations about the maximum amount of compensation to be awarded in a case.”

As Kurir informed SEEMO, the court case by Djilas is connected to an article published in Kurir's issue of Nov. 27, 2012, in which the paper quoted a statement made by Petar Petkovic, a member of the Serbian parliament, during a press conference of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). Petkovic, in his statement, claimed that since 2004, Djilas had become one of the wealthiest Serbs thanks to his marketing business, giving some financial amounts as examples.

SEEMO said today that Djilas should know that as a public figure he must be prepared to tolerate and bear critical comments.

At the same time SEEMO said it was alarmed at death threats the owner of Kurir, Aleksandar Rodic, has received. According to the daily, threats arrived at Kurir's offices stating that the owner of the newspaper would go the same way as the owner of the Nacional weekly in Croatia, Ivo Pukanic, who was killed in 2008.

Rodic received the threat in a letter signed “Atentator” (Assassin) that was sent from a post office in Belgrade. In addition, the newspaper received threats that the building that houses Kurir's offices would be blown up.

Vujovic commented: “I am asking the police and the Serbian authorities to investigate these threats against the owner of Kurir and to inform the public as soon as possible about the results of the investigation.”

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