The verdict acquitting journalists Meri Jordanovska and Predrag Petrovikj from “A1on” was announced today in the Basic Criminal Court in Skopje. This verdict follows the previously submitted private lawsuit of the MP and leader of the political party “Left” Dimitar Apasiev who sued the journalists for “unauthorized publication of personal records” under Article 148 of the Criminal Code.
During the procedure that lasted for almost a year, the plaintiff did not appear in person even once and the journalists were present several times at the hearings in the court where they represented their defence. Following the announcement of the verdict, colleague Meri Jordanovska said: “State officials must understand that they hold office 24/7 and are more susceptible to public criticism, whether responding to e-mail, text message, business or private phone. And when we, as journalists, ask them, we ask for them on behalf of the public, for things that are of public interest, so the practice of introducing fear and censorship must not be established.”
This verdict confirms the position of the journalists that it is not about publishing a personal record but about information that is of public interest and that the journalistic questions addressed to Apasiev, in this case, are legitimate and worthy of public attention.
The defence of journalists highlights the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) according to which the limits of public criticism are wider for public office holders than for private individuals and they need to have a higher threshold for criticism.
Such lawsuits in the context of the Council of Europe are known as Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP). These types of lawsuits serve to intimidate and incur legal costs or simply exhaust the defendants, in this case, critical journalists, to demotivate or abandon public criticism. These lawsuits, especially when initiated by politicians and public officials, can provoke self-censorship among journalists and thus violate the right of citizens to information.