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Justice for man made to pay huge fine for publishing criticism of a public official

Lepojić v. Serbia  | 2007

Justice for man made to pay huge fine for publishing criticism of a public official

Public figures should be exposed to publicity and criticism, this is quite normal.

Zoran Lepojić, in a report by Pescanik TV - © Photo PEŠČANIK

Background

In the run-up to the 2002 elections, Zoran Lepojić published an article claiming that the Mayor of Babušnica had wasted “nearly insane” amounts of public money on sponsorships and gala lunches.

The mayor filed civil and criminal cases against Mr Lepojić for defamation. The mayor won both cases, because Mr Lepojić could not prove his accusations. Mr Lepojić was ordered to pay fines, damages and costs equivalent to eight average monthly salaries in Serbia at the time. The court said that a mayor’s honour was more important than that of an ordinary citizen.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The article had addressed issues of public interest and had been published in good faith. The heavy fines had been unreasonable in these circumstances. Together with the national courts’ dubious reasoning about the importance of the mayor’s honour, this had breached Mr Lepojić right to freedom of expression.

Follow-up

In November 2008 the Supreme Court incorporated the principles of the Strasbourg court into its case law, aiming to expand the scope for criticism of public figures under Serbian law. However, the Council of Europe continues to monitor progress on this issue.

Mr Lepojić’s conviction was deleted from his criminal record. 


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