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Man acquitted of defamation after responding to allegations of contaminated drinking water

Šabanović v. Montenegro |2011

Man acquitted of defamation after responding to allegations of contaminated drinking water

The article stated that all of the current water sources contained various bacteria.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, May 2011 

Background 

As the head of a public water company, Zoran Šabanović felt he had a duty to respond to newspaper allegations that the local water supply was unsafe to drink. The contamination claims were based on a report drawn up at the request of a public official.

Zoran called a press conference. He told the public that the water was safe to drink. Zoran claimed that the public official who requested the study was working to promote the interests of private companies. 

The public official started libel proceedings against Zoran, claiming that his statements were untrue. Zoran denied this. 

The Montenegrin courts found Zoran guilty of defamation and gave him a three-month suspended prison sentence. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that Zoran’s criminal conviction for making a “robust clarification” on an issue of great public interest, the safety of drinking water, violated his freedom of speech.

Follow-up 

In 2011, Montenegro changed its Criminal Code. This included decriminalising defamation, in line with Council of Europe recommendations. 

After the European court’s judgment, Zoran asked for his case to be re-opened. In 2012, he was acquitted at a re-trial.