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Defamation Lawsuit Against CIN Dismissed

The Cantonal Court in Bihać has issued a final ruling, determining that CIN did not defame Ibrahim Hasanagić, a war veteran from Bihać. The lawsuit was related to CIN’s article, “State Secret About Disabled Veterans”, published two years ago.
Ibrahim Hasanagić, a war veteran from Bihać, told reporters that his „papers are his defense“ and that institutions will determine „the extent“ of his disability (Photo: Dženat Dreković / CIN)

The Cantonal Court in Bihać has issued a final ruling that the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) is not responsible for defaming Ibrahim Hasanagić, a war veteran from Bihać.

In January 2022, CIN published a story titled “State Secret About Disabled Veterans”, which reported that Hasanagić received nearly BAM 400,000 in disability benefits over 16 years from the FBiH budget. Hasanagić obtained these benefits based on medical findings declaring him officially blind since 1993, necessitating assistance in his daily life.

Hasanagić is one of the war-disabled veterans classified in group one as a person with a 100% disability rating, which earned him the right to the highest veteran disability compensation and add-ons of nearly two thousand marks a month

Journalists found Hasanagić at the Bihać market, greeting customers and selling clothes and various small items. They purchased a phone case from him, which he promptly sold and provided the correct change.

After the story was published, Hasanagić sued CIN for defamation and spreading false information about him. David Derajić, a judge at the Bihać Municipal Court, accepted his lawsuit and, in late October 2023, issued a first-instance ruling that found CIN liable for defamation and damaging Hasanagić’s reputation by conveying and expressing false facts.

Judge Derajić established that Hasanagić is 100% disabled with loss of vision in both eyes and has all the medical documentation to confirm his condition. Therefore, he concluded that CIN had published falsehoods in Hasanagić’s case.

“The court sees no issue with the Plaintiff returning change to customers, as he can discern the denominations of the banknotes in his hand through touch and provide the appropriate change”, wrote Judge Derajić in his verdict.

CIN lodged an appeal with the Cantonal Court in Bihać, which reversed the original verdict. The court concluded that CIN did not disseminate falsehoods, engage in defamation, or tarnish Hasanagić’s reputation in its reporting. It declared that the findings of the lower court were flawed and that CIN stayed within the permissible boundaries of freedom of expression.

CIN did not contest Hasanagić’s medical findings. As stated in the story, his evidence includes reports from the ophthalmology clinic in Zagreb, a clinic in St. Petersburg, and the Clinic for Eye Diseases in Sarajevo, all stating his blindness. Hasanagić, a former member of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, suffered a head injury from a grenade explosion in August 1993 but lacks medical documentation from an examination immediately after the injury.

“…hence there is no defamation, nor was damage inflicted upon the Plaintiff’s reputation by the publication of these facts”, the final ruling of the Cantonal Court states.

In 2015, Hasanagić underwent a review conducted by the Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He appeared before the commission accompanied by a person assisting him in mobility and, as noted in the commission’s report, “giving the impression of a blind person” – a starkly different image from the one encountered by CIN journalists at the Bihać market in late 2021.

"State Secret" About Disabled Veterans
Disabled veterans of war receiving benefits based on suspicious diagnoses hide in the FBiH Register of Veterans of War. During the disability assessment review, they went undetected because disability assessment review boards did not refer them to re-examinations to establish their actual health condition.

As a reminder, in the story “State Secret About War Veterans”, CIN revealed that the Registry of Fighters in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina conceals war veterans receiving benefits based on questionable diagnoses. Despite the disability assessment reviews, these individuals remained undetected because medical commissions did not schedule them for new examinations to ascertain their true health status.

Although at least 150 individuals were convicted of unlawfully obtaining benefits related to veteran and disability protection from the start of the disability assessment review until the end of 2021, none of those convicted were doctors who issued false reports.

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