Defamation (insult only) remains a criminal offence in Serbia.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Publicly mocking the Republic of Serbia, its flag, coat of arms or national anthem is a criminal offence under Art. 178 of the Serbian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for up to three months.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Publicly exposing to mockery a foreign state or its flag, coat of arms, or national anthem is a criminal offence under Art. 175 of the Serbian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for up to three months. The same penalty shall be imposed if a person publicly exposes to mockery the United Nations, the International Red Cross, or other organisation of which Serbia is a member.
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
However, Art. 177, par. 2 of the Serbian Criminal Code states that if a defamation-related criminal offence is committed against a deceased person, prosecution may be initiated (via private action) by the spouse of the deceased or person cohabiting with the deceased, lineal descendant, adoptive parent, adopted child, or the deceased person’s sibling.
Note that publicly exposing a group of people to mockery in connection with their religion is a criminal offence under Art. 174 of the Serbian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Dissemination of information on personal and family life
The Serbian Criminal Code prohibits “dissemination of information on personal and family life”, defined as the presentation or dissemination of information on anyone’s personal or family life that may harm his honour or reputation. The offence is punishable with a fine or imprisonment for up to six months (Art. 172 of the Serbian Criminal Code).
If this offence is committed through the media or other similar means or at a public gathering, the punishment increases to a fine or imprisonment for up to six months.
Prosecution for offences of insult and dissemination of information on personal and family life is undertaken by private action. Prosecution for offences defamation of the state, its symbols, or international organisations is undertaken upon approval of the State Public Prosecutor. The limitations period is three months rom the date when the injured party learned of the crime and the suspect (Art. 65, .
Statistics on Application
This section is under development to reflect changes in Serbian media legislation in 2014.
Media Cases and Case Law
Notable court decisions
A decision of County Court in Čačak on July 8th, 2005 (Kž. 322/2005) states that when the accused insults a private plaintiff during a Local Community meeting, he will be absolved of accusations that he committed a criminal act of insult, because he stated the insult during an organized meeting for the purposes of serious criticism and the protection of interests of the Local Community. In this case, the accused, who was the President of the Local Community, had shown documents that mention the plaintiff in the context of abuse and stealing of funds during a Local Community meeting. In those circumstances, the accused spoke offensively of the plaintiff, but because he had done that as the President of the Local Community, in view of protecting the interests of the Local Community and for the purpose of serious criticism, his offensive language towards the plaintiff wasn’t spoken with intent to disparage the plaintiff.
The decision of the Court of Appeals in Belgrade on February 9th, 2011 (Gž. 6192/2010) states that the court of first instance applied the Law on Public Information and the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia correctly, when it found that the accused must pay compensation to the plaintiff for the emotional grief because of damages to his reputation, honour and rights of personality. In this case, an article that was published on September 25th, 2008 in a daily newspaper suggested that the plaintiff has committed a serious crime as a member of criminal group, which had consequences on the moral status he enjoys as a member of a certain social community. The accused said that the article was written according to official press releases from the Ministry of Interior Affairs. The plaintiff’s reputation was protected by the presumption of innocence, according to which no one can be called an offender before a final decision of a relevant court, which also applies to statements in the media.
In a decision of the Supreme Court of Serbia on May 26th, 2004 (Rev. 884/2004) it is stated that the plaintiff suffered emotional pain because of a false information published about his work (he was discharged from the position of a magistrate judge) in the daily newspaper of the accused company, which was authored by a journalist who was also sued. The plaintiff was awarded compensation for non-pecuniary damages according to Article 200 (1) of the Law on Contracts and Torts. The Supreme Court confirmed the decisions of lower courts to order the accused parties (the legal entity that is the founder of the media and the journalist) to solidarily compensate the plaintiff for the damages he suffered to his reputation and honour, in accordance with the general provisions on liability for damages. The Supreme Court also confirmed that the lower courts made the right decision not to award the compensation to the closest family members of the plaintiff (wife and children) because that kind of compensation for non-pecuniary damage only belongs to the directly damaged person.
In a case before the Court of Appeals in Kragujevac on November 9th, 2010 (Kž1. 5208/2010) it was stated that in order for the criminal offence of insult to be present, the statement must be insulting from a general point of view, not just according to the subjective view of the damaged party. In this particular case, the accused Lj.B. directed an offensive statement to counter-plaintiff S.V, which was obviously insulting to her honour and reputation, as can be seen from her appeal, where she stated that she was offended on the basis of her nationality. However, from the general stance, words “M.” and “Š.” represent the members of a national minority living on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, as well as other countries, and being a member of a certain nation, national minority, or some other community, as well as the comparison of their members to members of other nations or communities cannot be valued and therefore cannot be considered offensive.
Notable criminal cases
In 2012, journalist Laszlo Szasz was to 150 days in prison after being unable to pay a criminal fine for insult. Szasz, who wrote occasionally for Hungarian-language media in northern Serbia, had been convicted under Criminal Code Article 170 (insult) over a critical comment about Hungarian far-right politician Laszlo Toroczkai in the comment section of the Hungarian language daily Magyar Szo. After serving two weeks of his jail term, Szasz was pardoned by Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic.
In 2010, a court in Cacak the newspaper Cacanske novine to pay 180,000 Serbian dinars in moral damages to former government minister and leader of the New Serbia party Velimir Ilic over two articles—one a satire and the other a critical commentary—that Ilic claimed caused damage to his reputation. That decision was upheld on appeal. In addition, the newspaper’s owner, Stojan Markovic, was charged with criminal libel in relation to the articles and found guilty by a Cacak court. However, the conviction was later overturned by the Kragujevac Court of Appeal.
Recent Legal Changes
Libel was repealed as a criminal offence in 2012 (entry into force Jan. 1, 2013) following an amendment to the Criminal Code.
In 2014, the Serbian parliament passed a new Law on Electronic Media and a Law on Public Information Media. This entry is currently being updated to reflect relevant provisions of those laws.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Serbia was last updated in July 2014.