HND Concerned Over Ruling Against Hanza Media for Judge’s Emotional Distress

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The ruling was delivered on 11 February by Judge Helena Frigo Bomeštar. Judge Marković ruled in a case in 2019 on sentencing for five youths accused of rape, sexual abuse and recording a fifteen-year-old girl from Zadar’s environs. Judge Marković released the five youths immediately after questioning, but a panel changed his decision and order their detention. Marković’s decision became a topic for the media and he subsequently sued those media, HND recalled.

HND underscored that the first article on the rape was released by a reporter for the Slobodna Dalmacija portal which is owned by Hanza Media and later the story was released by a score of other media outlets. Marković then sued all media outlets that critically reported on the case, notably on the scandalous decision that the five suspects be released, HND said in a press release.

Marković was awarded HRK 250,000 after initially seeking HRK 825,000 in damages, the HND said. He filed 26 suits at the Zagreb Municipal Court, claiming that the media had caused irreparable damage to his reputation and honour as well as instigating a public campaign against him. The court ruled in favour of Marković’s suit while rejecting evidence that reporters presented in support of their case.

HND considers the ruling to be “scandalous and dangerous for journalism and the media in general.”

HND said that judges are often serial plaintiffs against reporters and the media in Croatia and that this is unique in Europe, where Croatia is recognised as the worst country with regard to SLAPP suits aimed at intimidating critics, usually reporters and burdening them with expensive lawsuits.

The most recent ruling clearly show that the response to these ridiculous court decisions, that threaten the freedom of the media, lies in the hands of the government, which has the mechanism to prevent this by decriminalising defamation and insults, by limiting the amount of damages and by educating judges, HND said, adding that it has called on the Ministry of Culture and Media, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Administration, and the Supreme Court to react in this regard.


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