POLICE’s decision to charge journalist Dušan Karolyi with libel for his story about police officer abusing his powers met with wide criticism from OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović, media freedom watchdog International Press Institute (IPI) and several Slovak public figures.
According to Mijatović the criminal libel charges filed against Karolyi which may result in five-year prison sentence are worrying and pose a threat to free media.
“Applying criminal charges for libel stifles public debate and can be used to protect public officials from criticism,” Mijatović said in press release on September 8. “In effect, it poses a threat to free media.”
After Karolyi’s prosecution received attention from media and NGOs, the General Prosecutor’s office took up the case.
“General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár submitted a motion to the Deputy General Prosecutor For Criminal Department Peter Šufliarsky to scrutinise the legality of the criminal prosecution of journalist Dušan K,” said General Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Andrea Predajňová, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
In August 2013, Karolyi wrote about the case of former employee of the Office for Fight against Organised Crime (ÚBOK), Jaroslav Dujava, who was suspected of abusing his powers as a public official. According to Karolyi, Dujava allegedly broke the law when using frivolous and excessive force to detain Alexander Ducár, one of the owners of Kompit, a company possessing lucrative real estate in Prešov.
A police commando unit detained Ducár at noon and transported him across the whole city, which made it seem like the police had caught a high-ranking mafia member. Ducár allegedly ordered the beating of one of Kompit’s owners, but the investigation has never proved this, Karolyi wrote in Trend.
Karolyi pointed to the procrastination of the Prešov District Court, which has been dealing with the Dujava case since August 2005, when a prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit against him. Due to its inactivity, Prešov District Court judge Marián Mačura cancelled the prosecution against Dujava and another three former police officers because the case is statute-barred.
“The case from Prešov shows the depth of the fall of the law enforceability [in Slovakia],” Karolyi wrote in August 2013.
Dujava filed a criminal complaint against an unknown offender for libel demanding compensations in the sum exceeding €33,000. He did that even though the journalist has not used his full name, but an abbreviation: “Jaroslav D.”.
The former police officer suffered social and career harm because of the story, according to the investigator of the Prešov police, Anton Marcinčin. For example, Saint Elizabeth’s Health and Social Work University in Bratislava did not prolong its contract with Dujava, wrote Medialne.sk, a media news site.
“I see published information as directly focused against me,” Dujava wrote in the statement for Medialne.sk, “and I asses them not only as unpleasant social phenomenon but mainly as serious violation of my rights as protected by the constitution.”
Dujava added that since 2003 he has been victim of criminalisation and scandalising from the media and all criminal prosecutions carried against him ended with his name being cleared.
Karolyi filed a complaint against his prosecution calling it “absurd”.
“The person, who, according to plaintiff, repeatedly abused his powers as a public official, is innocent because of court’s procrastination,” Karolyi said, as quoted by Medialne.sk. “The person, who informed the public about it, is prosecuted.”
However, the district prosecutor office rejected it, claiming, among other things, that Dujava was not given enough room to comment on the case, according to Medialne.sk.
Marcinčin, who headed the investigation in Dujava, formerly worked in the same police department in Prešov as Dujava. However, Marcinčin rejected the insinuation that there was any bias in the case since he has not maintained closer relationship with Dujava. Dujava provided a similar statement.
IPI likened the prosecution to the first verdict in the Bonanno case in which court ordered a Ringier Axel Springer, the publisher of Nový Čas tabloid daily to apologise to a Supreme Court judge in connection with the publishing of photos from a private meeting of prominent lawyers and judges, dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association, in the Bonanno bar in Rajecké Teplice in autumn 2010. A total of €1.8 million in damages is being sought in lawsuits related to the case.
In late August 2010, Ľubomír Harman, a 48-year-old man wearing blue ear defenders and armed with an assault rifle, shot dead seven people before killing himself in Devínska Nová Ves. The Judiciary Oscars Association met two months after the shooting spree in October 2010, and in June 2011 Nový Čas published images from the party of retired judge Tibor Péchy sporting blue ear defenders and carrying an imitation assault rifle, plus video footage of the meeting.
The IPI see those causes as trying to scare journalists and media so they will rather avoid reporting about such failures and expressed its full support to Karolyi.
“IPI Slovakia again points to repetitive action of Slovak judiciary and law-enforcement bodies against media and journalists,” Pavol Múdry of IPI told the press, “meaning that if someone points to failures by the police or judicial bodies or persons working for the police, courts or prosecutor’s, office they accuse media and journalists who uncover those failures.”
In mid January 2013 documentary maker Zuzana Piussi and journalist Zuzana Petková, who had both been threatened with criminal prosecution in association with their work, found out that their cases will not be going to court.
The police on January 18, 2013 halted the criminal prosecution of Piussi, the director of ‘The Disease of the Third Power’, a critical documentary about what its creators call the “black holes” in Slovakia’s judiciary, over an alleged violation of confidentiality of verbal expression in a private conversation, a criminal offence which could have resulted in a two-year prison sentence.
At around the same time, a prosecutor halted the prosecution of Zuzana Petková for what the authorities called the unauthorised use of personal data when writing a newspaper story that included information about the salary paid by the Justice Ministry to the wife of Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin when she was employed at the ministry, the Sme daily reported on January 18, 2013.
Support for Karolyi
Dozens of public figures including writer Michal Hvorecký, Zuzana Wienk and Fero Paulíny of the watchdog group Fair Play Alliance, as well as journalists Zuzana Petková and Juraj Kušnierik, signed a petition in support of Karolyi, Medialne.sk reported.
“Not only that we approve this act of Dušan Karolyi but we publicly appraise him for this act,” reads the petition.
They intentionally wrote that they approve and agree with Karolyi’s actions, since publicly supporting a criminal act is also a criminal act in Slovakia, and thus, they could be prosecuted if the journalist is punished for his story.
“We are indeed convinced that no criminal act has been committed in case of Dušan Karolyi,” say signatories of the petition, “but even in case that courts would decide otherwise we insist on this statement and we are prepared to bear all consequences.”