The Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition (MFRR) welcomes the verdict in the criminal case concerning the arson attack against Serbian journalist Milan Jovanovic, rendered on 23 February by the Second Basic Court in Belgrade. The court sentenced former Grocka mayor Dragoljub Simonovic to four years and three months of prison for having ordered the arson attack on Jovanovic’s house in December 2018. The court also sentenced Vladimir Mihailovic and Aleksandar Marinkovic in absentia to four years in jail. Mr Marinkovic was sentenced for perpetrating the arson attack; however, his whereabouts have been unknown since the start of proceedings. This sentence sets an important precedent for ensuring that those who commit crimes against journalists in Serbia – so often met with impunity – are brought to justice.
During the final hearing, Judge Slavko Žugić also condemned the continuous obstructions the court faced in its work as a result of the defence’s multiple requests to postpone the hearings. It was reported that the defence team left the courtroom when being reprimanded by the court. The prosecutor affirmed that he will appeal the decision to seek a higher sentence for the three convictions. Simonovic’s lawyer also stated that they will appeal the judgment, but the grounds of their appeal are yet to be known.
Against a backdrop of proceedings in journalists’ cases lasting for decades, this sentence in Jovanovic’s case is particularly important. According to a recent report by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, only one in 10 criminal complaints involving threats to or attacks on journalists results in a court verdict in Serbia.
The MFRR notes that a high number of cases of harassment and threats against journalists Serbia has been recorded since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The MFRR recently concluded an online international mission to ascertain the status of media freedom and journalists’ protection in the country: preliminary findings outline that additional safeguards and strong political will are needed for safety of journalists and access to justice to be fully guaranteed.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
International Press Institute (IPI)