Aleksandar Sapic, the mayor of the Serbian capital of Belgrade, has filed two separate defamation lawsuits against BIRN Serbia, its editor and journalists, claiming that their reporting damaged his reputation and caused him mental anguish.
Sapic is suing BIRN Serbia, editor-in-chief Milorad Ivanovic and investigative reporters Jelena Veljkovic and Aleksandar Djordjevic for their reporting on his villa in the Italian coastal city of Trieste.
He is also suing BIRN Serbia, Ivanovic and investigative reporter Radmilo Markovic over an article about the legalisation of extensions to Sapic’s mansion in Belgrade’s Bezanijska Kosa neighbourhood.
He is seeking six million Serbian dinars (around 50,000 euros) in damages in each case – a total of around 100,000 euros.
“By publishing falsehoods, the accused have caused irreparable damage to the plaintiff in terms of mental anguish due to the violation of [his] honour, reputation and human dignity, which called into question the plaintiff’s overall moral values, which he enjoys within a certain social environment,” both lawsuits allege.
BIRN Serbia editor-in-chief Ivanovic said the lawsuits were another example of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, SLAPPs, which are aimed at intimidating journalists and discouraging them from reporting about individuals and topics of public interest.
He added that court practice in Serbia shows that judges do not award damages in such large amounts as Sapic is seeking from BIRN, and that the aim of the mayor’s lawsuits is to expose the media organisation, its editors and journalists to financial costs in order to exhaust its resources.
“BIRN will continue to investigate topics of public interest, keep institutions, politicians and public officials in check, and publish stories that the public has the right to know about so that they can make informed decisions,” said Ivanovic.
The aim of SLAPPs is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and chill critical voices to the detriment of public participation, according to a report on SLAPP lawsuits in Serbia published in 2022 by Article 19, the American Bar Association Centre for Human Rights and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, NUNS.