Anti-war protest met with counter-protest, threats to free journalism
As a joint CSO effort, a report titled "New Beginning" was published, researching the influence, visibility and needs of civil society organisations protecting human rights. The research was conducted in order to design new ways of working and models for institutional and legal advocacy, legal support for victims of human rights violations, and public communication and mobilisation of citizens.
Human Rights House Zagreb published its annual report “Human rights in Croatia: Overview of 2021”, which provides a summary of the most important problems, challenges and open questions that affected the protection and promotion of human rights in Croatia last year.
On 4th July 2022, the Solidarna Foundation, the Parents in Action (RODA) association, and the Centre for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI) organised a protest rally in Zagreb to protest against attempts to deny women their rights. The protest was held in solidarity with women in the United States, where the Supreme Court has abolished the constitutional protection of the right to pregnancy termination, devolving the issue to federal states. The protest rally was held on US Independence Day and was called Women's Independence Day.
On 3rd August 2022, several NGOs held a half-hour anti-war protest in Ban Jelačić Square in downtown Zagreb to commemorate the people killed and expelled during and in the aftermath of the 1995 Operation Storm, stressing that it is the responsibility of the state to prosecute crimes committed. CSOs in attendance included: Centre for Women Victims of War - ROSA, the Centre for Civil Courage, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, the Association for Social Research and Communications from Sarajevo, and the Women's Network of Croatia.During the half-hour protest, some passers-by staged a counter-protest, some took pictures of the activists’ banners, expressed their displeasure, displayed counter-banners and cursed the activists, calling them a "Chetnik gang." Officials in Croatia celebrated the 27th anniversary of the country’s military victory over rebel Serbs in Operation Storm. According to war veterans, Operation Storm heralded peace and an end to the 1991-95 Homeland War.
Other smaller protests were also organised:
- Fuel dealers blocked gas stations in response to the government's decision on price restriction.
- personal assistants, who work with persons with disabilities, demanded better working conditions and called for alaw on personal assistance.
- eco-activists called for more ambitious legislation that will prevent the appearance of prohibited single-use plastic products on the market.
- Citizens of Petrinje protested about the neglect and dysfunctionality of the institutions in charge of post-earthquake reconstruction in the city.
- A protest was organised by the Ukrainian Embassy in Zagreb due to the massacre of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the prison of pro-Russian separatists in Olenivka.
Separately, on 13th July 2022, the Croatian government recommended that parliament adopt the proposal by 92 lawmakers to amend the provisions of the constitution concerning referenda. The government in particular supported the proposal to reduce the necessary number of voters petitioning for a nationwide referendum from 360,000 voters to 250,000.
The European Commission recommended to Croatia in its 2022 Rule of Law Report, among other things, to increase the transparency of state advertising in the media, and to address the issue of lawsuits against journalists.
"The professional environment for journalists is impacted by verbal aggression against journalists, including by politicians. A high number of cases of abusive litigation targeting journalists remains a significant concern. Delays in the processing of requests for information from journalists remain an issue," the report says.
The report also noted that establishing an independent, self-regulatory body for the media is being discussed but lacks consensus among media stakeholders on the way forward.
Concerns over threats to free journalism
The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) raised concerns about new threats to free journalism, highlighting politicians' inappropriate communication with the media, such as President Zoran Milanović's recent inappropriate statement about the Hanza Media company, and the disappearance of released articles from the media. Regarding the latter, there has been a "disappearance" of articles on MP Sandra Benčić's warning about a possible conflict of interest in private deals between the Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) and the PPD gas supplier. In another case, Jutarnji List daily claimed that First Lady Sanja Musić Milanović had phoned Hanza Media owner Ana Hanžeković Krznarić in an attempt to stop an article detailing how she had contacted the headmistress of her son's secondary school, asking for his grades to be raised.
HND also reacted to the verdict of the Municipal Court in Novi Zagreb, which ordered Nova TV to pay HRK 30,000 (about 3,981 euros)in compensation to the former general secretary of AMK Siget Damir Škar for publishing a confession of the HAK secretary who accused him of rape. Calling it “one of the most shameful verdicts against the media in the last few years”, HND noted that the judgment also shows that there is an urgent need to change the national legislation in order to reduce the pressure of similar lawsuits and judgments on the media and journalists.
On 5th July, parliamentarians supported the legislative proposal that strengthens the fight against hate speech and terrorist content on the Internet, but the opposition expressed concern about the implications it could have on freedom of speech on the Internet. According to the draft proposal, internet service providers must find a way to stop hate speech and violence online in order to be able to prevent a potential terrorist act in time.
On 12th July 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Media held a second consultative meeting on the draft Media Development Guidelines within the National Plan for the Development of Culture and Media for the period from 2022 to 2027, at which comments and proposals received for measures and activities were discussed.
Incidents against journalists
Three incidents involving journalists were reported.
- On 22nd June 2022, journalist Mateo Pejaković received a death threat during a physical clash after writing critical articles about Andreja Menđel, head of the Administrative Department for Communal Activities and Management of the City of Požega.
- On 1st August 2022, woman journalist Maja Sever was verbally insulted and obstructed from doing her work, with her cell phone forcibly taken while she was filming the devastation of maritime property on the island of Tijat. The suspects were taken into custody by the police.
- On 9th August 2022, young journalist Toni Perinić of Zadarski list received threats after investigating a case of tourist fraud for which the Tourist Board received at least 30 complaints.
- The Croatian Journalists' Association requested a detailed investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the death of Vladimir Matijanić, a journalist from the Index portal. Matijanić died on 5th August 2022 from COVID-19 complications, which resulted in a lot of public attention after his partner Andrea Topić announced that the doctors in the Split hospital and the emergency room did not want to help him even though he had a number of comorbidities. In a later announcement, CJA warned that the Ministry of Health refused to provide information on the members of the commission that should investigate the circumstances of the death of Matijanić, saying that such behaviour suggests a cover-up attempt.