Abuse on the rise against Croatian media as journalists targetted
The final months of 2016 brought a spike in attacks on journalists and media outlets in Croatia. On 13th December, prominent investigative journalist Domagoj Margetic was attacked in Zagreb by an unknown assailant. The attack came shortly after a right-wing news portal published an article drawing attention to Margetic's testimony during the War Crimes Prosecution Office in 2010. The article made particular reference to his role in exposing war crimes committed by Croatian security forces against Serbs in 1991 and 1992. While Margetic was treated for minor injuries from the assault, he quickly drew attention to the 'atmosphere of hate' in Croatia against journalists working on politically sensitive issues. In a statement, the European Federation of Journalists also commented on the heightened tensions:
'This attack is just one in the chain of attacks against journalists partly due to the increasing intolerance in Croatian society and [the] lack of adequate reaction [from] relevant institutions. The [Croatian Journalists Association] CJA has constantly expressed worries about it...'
In an earlier incident on 20th October, Director at the Croatian news agency (Hina) Branka Gabriela Valentic, received an anonymous letter threatening her and smearing her as an 'anti-fascist whore'. On the 28th of November, Valentic and several other female journalists and the head of the Croatian Journalists' Association, Saša Leković, received a second threatening letter, written in a similar style to the first and containing insults. Many civic groups have called upon the Croatian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the ongoing threats.
While the Croatian Journalists' Association has played a crucial role in drawing attention to abuses against the sector, it has itself become a target. On the 28th October, it was reported that the car of the association's president, Saša Leković, had been tampered with after it swerved dramatically at high-speed on a motorway. While he managed to stop the car safely, he later discovered that two screws in the front right wheel had been half sawed, leading many to believe that his car was purposefully sabotaged. Leković's case has become emblematic of the regular threats faced by free speech advocates in Croatia. While the litany of abuses against the sector often prompts outrage in Croatian society, it rarely results in meaningful investigations or prosecutions; leading many to question the integrity of the Croatian authorities' and their ability to protect outspoken activists from abuse.
In a separate incident in the city of Karlovac, on 23rd November unknown assailants wrote 'death to journalists' on the window of the offices of news website Kaportal and in two other locations.
A number of protests have taken place in Croatia in recent months. Nearly all of them took place without incident and were well facilitated by Croatian security forces:
- The Association of Women of Homeland War protested against the decision to remove Zlatko Hasanbegović from his ministerial post, while several hours later the Initiative “I am not a Believer” protested for the fourth time demanding termination of the Vatican contracts and therefore separation of the church from the state.
- Hundreds of residents of the predominantly Bosnian Croat town Orasje protested against the arrest of former members of Bosnian Croat armed forces for alleged war crimes against Bosnian Serbs in 1992.
- The twentieth anniversary of protests for Radio 101, which took place in 1996 at Ban Jelačić Square in Zagreb, were marked by a multimedia event at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Around 300 specialist doctors held a protest called "Let's keep doctors in Croatia” demanding abolition of unequal contractual obligations under the Regulations on Specialisation.
- Civic initiatives and ecological CSOs protested in Slavonski Brod to demand an end to air pollution emanating from the refinery in Bosanski Brod.
- Santa Clara inhabitants protested against the supposed building of a Roma settlement.
- Student Center workers in Zagreb protested to demand the signing of a collective agreement.
- The radical right party – Indigenous Croatian Rights Party protested against a parliamentary decision not to remove the recently installed memorial plaque of Jasenovac fallen soldiers.
- Victims of credit-savings cooperatives of Austrian decent protested in front of the Austrian Embassy against the inability of Croatian institutions to protect its citizens from corrupt Austrian money lenders.
The police facilitated the exercise of all of these protests and demonstrations. While there were no unwarranted time and place restrictions imposed or requests denied, the leader of the radical right party and four others were arrested for shouting the Ustasha salutation and insulting the police.