The verdict was handed down on February 11 by Judge Helena Frigo Bomeštar. In the fall of 2019, Judge Ivan Marković decided on the detention of five young men suspected of raping, sexually abusing and filming a fifteen-year-old girl from the vicinity of Zadar. The judge released the five suspects immediately after questioning, and the out-of-court panel subsequently reversed his decision and ordered their detention. Marković's decision encountered discussions and scrutiny in the media, which is why the judge then sued these same media.
It is important to point out that the first article on rape and sexual violence was published by colleague Ivica Nevešćanin, editor and journalist of Zadarski.hr, news portal of Slobodna Dalmacija, owned by Hanza Media. After that, the story was reported by a number of media outlets. The serial prosecutor, Zadar County Court judge Ivan Marković then sued all media outlets that did a critical report on the case, especially on the scandalous decision to release five rape and sexual abuse suspects.
According to CJA's data, Judge Marković has filed 26 lawsuits at Zagreb Municipal Court against the media, half of which are against Hanza Media publications. From this media outlet, Marković eventually received damages in the amount of HRK 250,000, from the initial claim of HRK 825,000 for mental anguish. In his lawsuits, Marković claimed that the media had caused him irreparable damage to his reputation and honor, and incited a public persecution and lynching against him - the court accepted his arguments, while rejecting the evidence presented by journalists called in as witnesses.
The CJA considers the 42-page verdict to be scandalous and dangerous for journalism and the media in general, for several reasons. To begin with, we must ask how is it possible that Judge Marković managed to write almost 30 lawsuits against the media if his life fell apart, as he claims in the lawsuit. In such a difficult mental state and with a damaged social reputation, was he even be able to work as a judge? On what basis can a judge make assessments about what is sensationalist journalism - and by evaluating the work of serious journalists - when it is not within the competence of the judiciary system and is not written in any court file? Not to mention the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution, which was abolished by this shameful verdict. The CJA further raises the question on the basis of which act and what grounds can a judge make a decision on who is a public person and who is not, when, we repeat, it is not within the jurisdiction of the judiciary system. To claim that the judge of Zadar County Court, Ivan Marković, is not a public figure and therefore his work cannot be criticized or questioned, is contrary to the recommendations of the European Court of Human Rights, which had been incorporated in the verdicts of the Constitutional Court, three years ago. The Constitutional Court then overturned verdicts against the media, which were required to pay high sums to individual judges. The messages in the reasoning of these verdicts were more than clear: public officials have consciously chosen their professions and must be prepared to have every of their moves put under public spotlight – as such, they themselves must have a higher threshold of tolerance than others. We are also interested in who and when examined Judge Marković's mental anguish levels and how it is that only a few hundred thousand kuna in damages can cure that kind of stress.
In this case, it is not difficult to get the impression that apart from trying to silence and financially destroy a media house, it is also about making a judge wealthier, as in his case, a compensation of, for example, 10 kuna cannot cure stress, but only astronomical sums of money can. In addition to Hanza Media, the publisher of Jutarnji list and Slobodna Dalmacija (among other publications), the serial prosecutor, Judge Ivan Marković, sued the news portals Index and Telegram, along with 24sata newspaper for articles on the same topic.
After the scandalous verdict against Hanza Media, the judicial government appears to be untouchable, and the judges - infallible. This case once again points to what the CJA has been warning about for years: judges of both gender are often among serial prosecutors against journalists and the media, which is a unique case in Europe, and due to that, Croatia is recognized as the worst country when it comes to SLAPP – lawsuits with the goal to intimidate and silence critics, most often journalists, burdening them with lawsuits, high claims and defense costs.
It is also clear from the latest verdict that the answer to such insane court decision, endangering the freedom of media, is in the hands of the Government, which has mechanisms to prevent the, by decriminalizing defamation and insult, limiting lawsuits and educating judges.
We therefore demand the response of the Ministry of Culture and Media, the Ministry of Justice and Administration, as well as the Supreme Court. Such a verdict must be annulled! CJA gives full support to Hanza Media and all other publishers which are under attack by this serial prosecutor, Judge Ivan Marković.
CJA will warn all relevant European institutions of another episode in a series of shameful court rulings against journalists and the media, especially pointing out that such lawsuits are trying to destroy journalists and media houses.
The question which remains in the end is whether journalists and the media can follow the work of the courts at all. After a verdict like this - hardly!
For the CJA Executive Board
Hrvoje Zovko, president of CJA