Insulting comments from the closed section of an internet message board are the basis of a first-degree verdict that the High Court in Belgrade reached last week, sentencing Rastislav Dinic, Nemanja Poleksic and Marko Nikolic to a year in prison each, three years probation. The victims of the insults are Boris Malagurski and Ivana Rajovic, authors of a documentary called “Presumption of Justice”, who filed criminal charges in September 2012 against 12 members of the forum Parapsihopatologija for alleged organized threats to their life and personal and professional safety, made after the premiere of the film.
It is a film which shows the death of Brice Taton “in a different light” – in short, denying that it was a first-degree murder.
In July 2013, the Belgrade public prosecutor’s office filed a motion to open a criminal investigation against three message board users, whose identities were meanwhile determined with the aid of local internet providers, thereby acknowledging the claim made by Malagurski and Rajovic that their work was of public importance and that the message board comments constituted serious threats and calls for lynching, written with premeditation and persistence, making sure the threats reached the victims.
“My assessment was that these people know very well what they were doing, and I was worried that a powerful special interest group was behind it,” said Malagurski.
During the trial, the court refused the defense motion to question as witnesses the moderators and other users of the message board who could explain the context in which the comments were made in more detail – that this section of the message board was closed for the general public (a sub-forum called “Landfill”) and that strong words and affective insults are tolerated exactly because they don’t reach anyone except direct participants of the discussion, as well as that the comments written in specific forum slang, however vulgar and insulting, are not necessarily a threat of violence or a call for lynching.
The defendants accused of verbal assault against the denialists of Taton’s murder pointed out that at the time of the premiere, the fact that Boris Malagurski withheld the information about the film’s funding was especially irritating and that all outbursts of anger came as a result of the request to reveal the source of the money invested in the film. Moreover, the lawsuit filed by Malagurski for those insults could prove to be a more effective threat than the curses in the forum.
The court didn’t take into account the explanation of the affect caused by the film which denies the bestiality of a savage beating of Bruce Taton and claims that this was an unfortunate outcome of a common fistfight among football fans, invoking the foreign factor and anti-Serbian interests. Namely, the basic premise of the film is based on the defense of Taton’s murderers during the trial and subsequent appeals, according to which the process was conducted under “enormous pressure” from abroad and therefore the investigation, the trial and the verdicts against fourteen fans of Partizan were unfair.
“People get into fights” was Boris Malagurski’s line that sparked the outrage of those who participated in the debate about the alternative view of Taton’s murder.
In their film, Malagurski and Rajovic explored the “alternative” interpretations of Taton’s death floated by the defendants’ lawyers and families in the tabloid press: first of all that the case should have been qualified as sport-related violence leading to death instead of as aggravated murder with premeditation, and that the doctors who used the wrong treatment are to blame for the death of the French football fan. The thesis of the movie and the defense was that Taton jumped from the top of the staircase in the garage at Obilicev venac by himself, unaware that there is an abyss behind the fence, which is the fault of communal services that didn’t properly mark the dangerous spot, like uncovered manholes in the street.
The film, which was first announced as Boris Malagurski’s production directed by Dina Harovic, was premiered in Belgrade in June 2012, with Malaguski and Ivana Rajovic sharing the directorial credit, during the campaign to renew the process based on the testimonies of new witnesses.
In the process against the message board users for threats and coarse insults, the authors Malagurski and Rajovic were represented by Zora Dobricanin Nikodinovic, who as it happens represented the football fans’ leader Ivan Grkovic, sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of Bruce Taton, which was reduced to 13 years by the Court of Appeals.
Another campaign to renew the process is ongoing, after the warrant sent by the Court of Appeals to the High Court in mid-February to reconsider the request of the defense and renew the trial.
The Frenchman Brice Taton, who was in Belgrade with a group of Toulouse fans, was savagely beaten on September 17th, 2009 in an organized attacked by a group of hooligans who then pushed him over the staircase in Obilicev venac. He died 12 days later the Clinical center of Serbia. The trial against fourteen leaders and members of hooligan groups started in April 2010 and the first-degree verdict which sentenced them to a total of 240 years in prison was passed in early 2011. The following year this sentence was halved by the decision of the Court of Appeals.
The message board users who insulted Boris Malagurski, the author of “Presumption of Justice”, were sentenced for the criminal offense of endangering safety, defined by article 138 of the Criminal Code as a threat to life or bodily harm; the third paragraph of this article provides additional protection for various state officials, official persons and persons who perform work of public importance in the media by prescribing stricter sentences of six months to five years in prison.
In this case, the court estimated that this is indeed a journalist whose production is in the public interest, not a private entrepreneur hired to follow the activities of the defense team of people convicted of brutal murder. In reaching the sentence, expletives and insults written about Malagurski in a closed section of a message board had more weight than, say, the threats to Brankica Stankovic made by football hooligans on a stadium.
According to research by journalists’ associations, every month in Serbia there is on average one physical assault and one direct threat to the safety of a journalist. The police and the courts react in accordance with the scale of the actual power which they are facing.
Translated by Marijana Simic