Concerns over wave of abusive SLAPPS against online news outlet Index.hr
In its report “Protecting Civic Space”, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights highlighted that throughout 2020 prosecutors and courts broadly interpreted criminal provisions on the facilitation of irregular migration, particularly targeting people providing humanitarian assistance to migrants. It added that such hostile attitudes by state institutions challenged the constitutionally granted right to freedom of association.
- In September 2021, the “Civil Initiative for Rights and Freedoms” organised a protest against the epidemiological measures taken by the Croatian government. During the protest, which was attended by approximately 3,000 people, several journalists were verbally attacked. In one case a protester tore off the mask of an “Index” reporter.
- At the beginning of October 2021, around 30 health workers gathered in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, to protest against a new mandatory COVID-19 vaccination certificate. Those gathered prevented the Croatian Minister of Health Vilija Beroš from speaking in front of the Clinical Hospital Center Zagreb, chanting slogans such as "betrayal" and "resignation".
- On 19th October 2021, Greenpeace organised a protest against the use of fossil gas at the Krk Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) offshore terminal in Croatia, demanding a policy shift away from fossil fuels by EU leaders. During the protest, activists painted “Climate Killer” across the side of the facility.
At the end of September 2021, a Zagreb Municipal Civil Court banned a journalist from continuing with an investigation on the Polyclinic for the Protection of Children and Youth. The decision, which has been taken at the clinic’s request, has been widely criticised; among others, the major of the city of Zagreb, Tomislav Tomasevic, stated he opposed the idea that any state institution is seeking a court ban on journalists investigating public institutions’ work. Additionally, Croatia’s Minister of Culture, Obuljen Korzinek, questioned the legality of forbidding someone to write on a subject “in advance”. The Croatian Journalists’ Association and Union condemned the court decision.
On 16th September 2021, the magazine "Hrvatski tjednik" published a news story defaming 14 Croatian intellectuals as collaborators of the “Serbian world” in Croatia. On the cover page, the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije and the portraits of 14 intellectuals are portrayed; these include politicians, scientists, political analysts, university professors and journalists. Journalist Branimir Pofuk reported the case to the police and the Croatian Journalists' Association as he felt threatened by the publication’s content. According to him, such false claims are endangering the journalists and their families. Journalists explicitly listed in the article are Drago Pilsel, Boris Dežulović, Viktor Ivančić, Jurica Pavičić, Ante Tomić, Ivica Ivanišević, Damir Pilić, Davor Krile, Miljenko Jergović, Goran Gerovac and Zlatko Gall. The Safe Journalists network condemned the “insidious targeting of journalists in Croatia”.
At the end of September 2021, the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) expressed their serious concern about a “wave of abusive legal actions against Croatian online news outlet Index.hr”. Currently the outlet’s publisher is facing 56 lawsuits, while there are nine defamation lawsuits which target journalists. Three of these cases are based on EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and anti-discrimination and copyright law. According to the IPI, these lawsuits can be considered Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Calling for the need for EU anti-SLAPP legislation, it said:
“The cases, taken together, constitute a significant burden on resources of Index.hr and many appear to be instituted with a view to silencing its critical reporting and, beyond the outlet, creating a “chilling effect” on press freedom in general.”
Separately, Boris Dezulovic, a well-known Croatian journalist and columnist, has received death threats linked to an article he wrote about Vukovar, an eastern Croatian town. After war veterans’ associations and the Veteran Ministry condemned the article, Dezulovic received numerous serious threats on social media. The Ministry of Interior has opened an investigation.
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