The Belgrade Court of Appeal has rescinded the first-instance verdict that sentenced three defendants earlier this year to a total of 12 and a half years in prison for setting fire to the house of journalist Milan Jovanović.
The court adopted the appeals lodged by the legal team of the defendants – Dragoljub Simonović, a former president of the Belgrade municipality of Grocka and current official of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, Aleksandar Marinković and Vladimir Mihailović – and ordered that the entire legal procedure be relaunched before the court of first instance. The start of the new trial has been announced for the end of January 2022.
Journalist Jovanović, whose house was gutted in the arson attack of December 2018 and who barely escaped the flames together with his wife by sheer luck, said that he felt “horrified and devastated” by the revoking of the first instance verdict.
“We are now moving targets, and they’ve been released. I’m waiting for them to come and finish what they started. My wife isn’t well and can’t sleep at night. She paces on the balcony. I’m also scared for her health,” said Jovanović, who works as a journalist for local portal Žig info.
According to Predrag Milovanović, the prosecutor who authored the indictment for the arson attack, the verdict was revoked due to procedural reasons, but he expressed his hope that the “match” would be won in the end.
The Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation assessed this decision of the court as representing “a discouraging and devastating message for all journalists who do their job in the public interest”.
Concern and disappointment over the rescinding of the verdict have also been expressed by the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS) and organisation Reporters Without Borders.
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