October 9, 2009
I am one of those gals who will, every so often, attempt to find all the good news in a day’s media, just for the sake of reminding themselves that life can be wonderful, that there are incredibly good people in the world, and that it isn’t harmful to feel good about the earth, humanity, and the wonders of the universe in general.
I also criticize a lot, and not only because of the French part of me – it is a well-known fact that the French grumble most of the time. I believe that if one wants to make progress, than one needs to point to, and work on, what isn’t going well. So I knew from the start that this blog would contain many critical posts: critical of Croatian, French and European societies, mentalities, policies, politicians…
I’m sorry however that my first post has to relay the disturbing news that Croatia may become the first European country to send a blogger to jail after the Court in Vukovar convicted him for slander. On October 6th, Damir Fintić was sentenced to 20 days in prison for comments published on his blog, critical of former Vukovar Mayor Vladimir Stengl and his wife Dragica.
Anonymous readers of Fintić’s blog posted critical comments accusing the then Vukovar Mayor and member of the ruling HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), of nationalism, chauvinism, nepotism, shady business deals with public funds and overall abuse of public authority, including about the manner in which the Stengls acquired property.
In 2005, feeling offended by the accusations posted on the vukovarac.net web site, Vladimir Stengl, filed three criminal and three civil suits against Fintić as domain owner, asking for a total of 250,000 Kunas (33,311 Euros) in damages. In three criminal proceedings, the Court pronounced guilty as charged in all three cases. He was sentenced to four months in prison and two years of probation in one case, while in each of the other two cases the Court sentenced him to two months imprisonment. In the meantime, the Croatian Criminal Code has been amended and imprisonment for defamatory offences abandonned. Accordingly, Fintić’s sentences were changed into equivalent fines. The plaintiffs having also won the civil suit, a third of Fintić’s monthly salary goes directly to the plaintiff.
Fintić’s monthly salary is just above 400 Euros and he will end up in prison simply because his income, already reduced by the regular payments to the plaintiffs, is not sufficient to cover court costs. They are therefore replaced once again with a prison sentence.
Fintić is expected to report to the Osijek prison on 27 October in order to serve his 20-day sentence.
The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) expressed “great concern because of the twenty-day prison sentence given by the Vukovar District Court to Damir Fintić for the crime of slander… There is a threat that Fintić may be the only blogger in Europe who will have to go to jail because of slander. That would certainly damage the the image of freedom of expression in Croatia, at a time when Internet communication is not regulated by legislation.”