Journalist imprisoned for insulting far-right politician

A journalist in the northern province of Vojvodina, imprisoned for insulting a far-right Hungarian politician, has asked Serbia's new president to pardon him.

Source: B92, Tanjug

69-year-old Laslo Šaš (Laszlo Sas) began serving his 150-day sentence in the town of Subotica earlier this month, after he was found guilty for posting a letter on the Novi Sad Hungarian-language website Magyar Szo in 2007 that allegedly insulted LaszloToroczkai.

LaszloToroczkai heads the extreme right organization 64 Counties Youth Movement.

The journalist was forced to start serving his sentence as he could not pay the fine set by the court in Subotica at RSD 150,000, and later confirmed by a court in Novi Sad.

President Tomislav Nikolić has been forwarded the plea for pardon, local media in Subotica are reporting.

The decision to imprison the veteran reporter has met with universal condemnation of Serbian journalist associations, who called for the authorities to free him, and explained that Šaš was forced to defend himself in court since he could not afford to hire a lawyer in the second-degree proceedings.

"In case this ruling stands, Šaš will be the first journalist sent to prison for insult since the new criminal law has been passed," said a joint statement issued by the Association of Journalists of Serbia, the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, and the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning the imprisonment of Laslo Šaš, calling it "an aberration".

"You cannot convict a journalist on a criminal charge just for criticizing a politician. Being criticized is normal. Politicians must learn to accept criticism and to realize it is necessary in a democracy," the statement pointed out, and urged President Nikolić to intervene in the case.

Reporters Without Borders noted that LaszloToroczkai, who sued the journalists, heads a movement which calls for the unification of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary, was banned from Serbia for almost two years, from 2008 to 2010, because of his ultra-nationalist statements and activities.


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