Belgrade Court Acquits Koluvija Lawyer of Threatening Jelena Zorić

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Court rules that lawyer’s words grossly violated the ethical code, but did not constitute a direct threat to the journalist’s life – an outcome Zoric said she had expected.

Photo: Jelena Zorić / BIRN

A court in Belgrade has ruled that when Predrag Koluvija’s attorney Svetislav Bojić told the journalist Jelena Zorić that “nobody did well who made a mistake about Koluvija”, this was not a direct threat to her life but a gross violation of the ethical code of attorneys – but one that this court would not deal with.

Koluvia, on trial for illicit narcotics production, has accused BIRN of incorrectly reporting a past case in which he was mentioned.

Dragoljub Đorđević, representing Zorić, said he believed extra-institutional pressure was exerted during the trial.

Bojić was acquitted on March 20 before the Second Basic Court in Belgrade of threatening the journalist, i.e. the crime of endangering the safety of journalists.

At the pronouncement, the lawyer for the accused also said that three days earlier, the Belgrade Bar Association had ruled that Bojić was not responsible for what he had said and would not be subject to disciplinary action either.

According to the indictment, Bojić threatened Zorić at the end of December 2020. The prosecution sought eight months of imprisonment or three years of probation.

It submitted a written statement to the court, which stated that the entire context in which the event took place should be taken into account.

Explaining the acquittal, Judge Dragana Branković said that what Bojić said did not represent a direct threat to the journalist’s life and body. She said Bojić had clearly violated the Attorney’s Code of Professional Ethics, but the court could not deal with that.

Đorđević, representing Zorić, told BIRN that he believed extra-institutional pressure had been exerted during that trial.

He said the court had “put full faith” in Zorić’s words but still found no elements of a criminal offence in what was said. He had gained a “painful impression” after the presentation of Bojić’s defence as well as during the presentation of the closing arguments.

“That man shows no remorse at all and still tells a bunch of lies. I think that he and his defence tried in every way to belittle journalist Zorić; they tried to humiliate her in some way, which left a very bad impression on me,” Đorđević said.

Zorić received other threats

Koluvija was charged by the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime after about 66,000 cannabis stems were found on the property of his company Jovanjica which weighed 1.6 tons after drying.

On December 28, 2020, Bojić approached Zorić while she was engaged in journalistic work with a cameraman and said: “Please be precise in your reporting, as my client Predrag Koluvija is an honest man and a great believer, this is what he told me when I went to visit him: ‘Zorić is destroying me and tearing me apart with her reporting, but I pray to God for her health, just as I pray for the health of the prosecutor Saša Drecun and the one who arrested him, Slobodan Milenković.’”

During the trial, it was also learned that the video recording of the conversation between Bojić and Zorić no longer exists, and so could not be part of the evidence.

Zorić reported the threats on December 29, 2020. Some 23 days later, on January 21, 2021, the prosecution requested the video footage from the Special Court building.

However, on January 25, the court responded that the footage had been stored for exactly 23 days, so they were unable to deliver it.

Đorđević said his client had received other threats as well. A photo of a pink piece of paper with a threatening message left in front of her apartment in January 2021 was shown to the court. It read: “This will go on until it’s over. You can’t escape from that”.

Đorđević noted that Zorić also received threats via social networks from Koluvija’s godfather and from his associate Sergej Mrđa while he was on the run, and for whom an Interpol warrant was issued for the Jovanjica case.

During the summer of 2022, during an appearance on television, while talking about the Jovanjica case, Zorić and her family, in this case her her brother, were also attacked by former Ministry of Interior State Secretary Dijana Hrkalović  who said she had heard from Zoric’s brother that she had had “problems in the newsroom” for allegedly covering up criminal correspondence.

Zorić: ‘Even in court, I knew the outcome’ 

Zorić said that she had expected the outcome. “Nevertheless, I reported the threats because as journalists we are obliged to fight for justice through institutions, even when we personally no longer believe in their work. From the moment I testified about the threats in the courtroom, and the judge asked me: ‘And why is that Jovanjica so important and you keep on writing about it?’ I felt what the outcome would be.”

Zorić added that “the most shameful of all is the move of the Belgrade Bar Association, which obviously knew exactly when the ruling would be handed down, so they decided exactly three days before not to impose a disciplinary penalty against their colleague”.

“All of this seems to me to be an institutional approval to attack independent journalism and stifle media freedom,” Zorić said.

After the parties receive the written decision of the court, the Prosecutor’s Office has the right to appeal; the injured party does not, because it is a proceeding conducted ex officio.

BIRN will monitor whether it appeals the court decision.