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Court unblocks Gorilla book

A WIDELY-criticised court decision to block publication of an unfinished book about alleged high-level political corruption being written by investigative journalist Tom Nicholson has proved relatively short-lived. The Bratislava Regional Court on June 11 overturned a temporary restraining order issued in February by the Bratislava I District Court to block the publication of the book, an act described by at least one media freedom watchdog as censorship.

A WIDELY-criticised court decision to block publication of an unfinished book about alleged high-level political corruption being written by investigative journalist Tom Nicholson has proved relatively short-lived. The Bratislava Regional Court on June 11 overturned a temporary restraining order issued in February by the Bratislava I District Court to block the publication of the book, an act described by at least one media freedom watchdog as censorship.

Nicholson’s publisher, Petit Press, which is also majority owner of The Rock, which publishes The Slovak Spectator, is now free to publish the book, which is based on the so-called Gorilla file, a document which purports to describe conversations covertly recorded by the country’s SIS intelligence service between 2005 and 2006. The file, which is available on the internet but whose contents have not been corroborated, suggests that corrupt links may have existed between senior politicians, government officials and businesspeople.

Nicholson is Slovak-based journalist and a former editor of The Slovak Spectator.

“It is a victory for common sense,” said Tomáš Kamenec, the lawyer representing Nicholson and Petit Press, in response to the court verdict, as quoted by the Sme daily, which is also published by Petit Press, on June 12.

The head of Petit Press, Alexej Fulmek, who called the verdict “an important decision, strengthening faith in Slovakia’s judiciary”, told Sme that the book could be available in four to six weeks if nothing unexpected happens.

Nicholson said he was pleased by the verdict and would like to have his book published within a month.

“I had expected this to happen, because it was the only possible decision if this country still has common-sense rules,” Nicholson said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The court issued its preliminary injunction in response to a complaint submitted by Jaroslav Haščák, co-owner of the Penta financial group, whose name features heavily in the Gorilla file in association with conversations he is alleged to have had with senior officials and politicians from the ruling coalition and the opposition in 2005 and 2006.

Branislav Král, the original district court judge, argued that he had weighed only two rights in reaching his judgment: the plaintiff’s right to protection of his person and Nicholson’s right to free expression. However, his ruling prevented publication of a book which had not been published and whose contents were not even known at the time.

“In order to issue a preliminary injunction all legal conditions must be met, which in the given case did not happen, and thus the decision of the first-instance court is incorrect,” the regional court wrote in its reasoning, as quoted by SITA.

The first instance court’s decision about whether the actions of Petit Press and Nicholson would result in the endangerment of the personal rights of the plaintiff should have been based only on an assessment of the evidence, the regional court said.

Nevertheless, the regional court ruling only applies to the preliminary injunction and not the merit of Haščák’s original complaint, the court noted.

Nicholson appealed the verdict of the first instance court earlier this year, arguing that its decision to block publication of the book he was preparing about the Gorilla file had restricted his right to work.


Criticism of the injunction


The head of the International Press Institute’s Slovak branch, Pavol Múdry, earlier this year described the district court’s decision as censorship. Múdry told The Slovak Spectator that the court’s decision in fact represented “preventive censorship, since the book has not yet been published and no one except the author knows what is in it”.

The district judge argued that he could have been regarded as practising censorship if he had sought to protect the state or any other form of government.

“It was necessary to judge very sensitively to which right I should attribute greater protection,” Král said, as quoted by Sme. “I claim that it is the right to protection [from defamation] of the individual”.

It emerged soon after the Král ruling that Judge Daša Kontríková, who happened to be presiding in a simultaneous lawsuit, had turned down a request by Zoltán Varga, the owner of an apartment where the SIS is alleged to have covertly recorded conversations described in the Gorilla file, to halt publication of Nicholson’s book, Sme reported.

Král is the district court judge who last year ordered former Slovak president Michal Kováč to apologise to former SIS director Ivan Lexa and pay him compensation of €3,319 for statements Kováč had made linking Lexa to the 1995 abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr. All investigations into the abduction, and into suspicions that the SIS was involved, were halted by blanket amnesties issued by acting president Vladimír Mečiar, Lexa’s political patron, in 1998.

Lawyers from Škubla & Partners, representing Haščák, said in a statement issued in February that the Bratislava I District Court’s decision to temporarily ban Nicholson from publishing his book on the Gorilla case did not imply that people were banned from reading what is on the internet or from drawing their own conclusions.

“The ban’s purpose is to stop illegal activities by those who are trying, via their status, to present this pamphlet as something true and legal,” read the statement, as reported by the TASR newswire on February 8.

Haščák and Varga also filed several lawsuits between January 20 and February 2 with the Bratislava I District Court in an attempt to have the Gorilla file removed from the websites where it had been published, TASR reported. These included cases directed at Facebook and the WebSupport and Tumblr websites. All of the suits were rejected by the district court.

Penta later told the media that the complaint against Facebook would be withdrawn because the contents of the Gorilla file had been shared via the social network for more than two months and it would be useless to proceed further against it.

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