Attacks and threats against journalists continue, SLAPPs remain a cause for concern
Banned neo-Nazi group active in Croatia
In November 2022, an investigation by the Balkan Investigative Research Network (BIRN) found that the Croatian branch of Blood and Honour, a banned neo-Nazi organisation, has been networking with other far-right groups in Europe through closed messaging groups and small-scale concerts. Blood and Honour promotes hatred towards migrants and calls for a "clean Croatia," and cooperation between the Croatian and Hungarian branches is particularly strong. Concerts serve as a means of networking and spreading extremist ideologies. Several individuals linked to Blood and Honour have been identified in Croatia, exhibiting neo-Nazi tattoos and expressing extremist views.
SLAPP lawsuits threaten media freedom
On 4th December 2022, the Croatian Journalists' Association drew attention to the growing issue of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which are seen as one of the key challenges faced by media, not only in Croatia but in the whole of the European Union. These are unfounded lawsuits against journalists and media outlets, which do not have a legitimate aim but rather serve to “hinder journalists professionally, intimidate them emotionally and ruin them financially”. In Croatia, the “SLAPP phenomenon” has gained great momentum in the recent period. According to data from the Croatian Journalists’ Association, in March 2022 there were more than 950 active SLAPP lawsuits against media in Croatia, with compensation requests totalling over ten billion EUR. A significant number of such lawsuits have been filed by members of the judiciary, which makes it even more difficult for journalists to fight back. In October 2021, the Croatian government had announced it would set up a working group to address SLAPPs. However, more than a year later, journalists’ associations report that there has been no information on the working group’s progress or activities.
CJA calls for solidarity with @TRIS_portal journalist Davorka Blažević, who has to pay 5.300 EUR compensation to former Supreme Court judge Senka Klarić Baranović under the famous "injury of honor and reputation" provision.#SLAPP @IFJGlobal @EFJEUROPE @cmfr— HND - Croatian Journalists' Association (CJA) (@HNDhr) November 26, 2022
Freedom of peaceful assembly
City councillors join protest against harmful landfill
Around 50 residents of Diklo, near Zadar, protested against the landfill in their town after a recent fire caused smoke and stench throughout the area. The protesters carried banners expressing their frustration with the impact of the landfill on their health and lives. The mayor ordered air quality measurements, which initially showed positive results. Protesters expressed dissatisfaction about the long-term effects of the landfill and demanded clarity on cleanup plans. City councillors also joined the protest, with one sarcastically mentioning the unfulfilled promises of a golf course on the site.
Trade unions protest across Croatia
Towards the end of October 2022, a new Labour Act was proposed by the Government to strong opposition from civil society, including trade unions, who say the bill, if adopted, will undermine workers’ rights and labour organising. A new version of the Act discussed in Parliament has led to protests. On 21st October 2022, protesters gathered in front of the Government’s headquarters. They warned of the negative effects of the new law, which would open the doors to more precarious forms of employment, uncontrolled overtime work, and weaken the position of some trade unions.
On 22nd October 2022, three preschool unions, in collaboration with professional associations, organised a protest over poor conditions in the country’s primary schools and kindergartens. Thousands of kindergarten teachers and parents called on the Croatian central government to contribute to the financing of preschool education, which is normally funded from local budgets. The union claimed that salaries in some kindergartens deviate from legal requirements by up to 30 percent, and warned about the overload and shortage of educators in kindergartens, as well as the numerous unsuitable kindergarten rooms that endanger children's safety and health.
All eleven public sector unions in Croatia have rejected the government's offer regarding the salary base in the public sector. They demand that labour prices and the purchasing power of employees be maintained. Being dissatisfied with the offer, the unions have announced protest actions. It has been announced that protests will be held in front of public institutions nationwide on 8th November, followed by a large joint demonstration in Zagreb on 25th November 2022. The unions hope that the government will present an appropriate offer to increase the salary base at the next meeting of the negotiating committee in order to prevent further actions.
Freedom of expression
Threats to media from war veterans over reporting on rape case
Former Croatian Member of Parliament and member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Stevo Čulej, who is currently the president of the Association of Special Police from the Homeland War, made a disturbing comment on 15th October, expressing a desire for the journalist Gordan Duhaček to be raped. This remark followed a ruling by the High Criminal Court reducing the sentence of former HDZ municipality chief Željko Prigorac for rape from two years’ imprisonment to one year and six months, citing his status as a decorated war veteran as a mitigating circumstance. On 11th October, the Croatian Journalists' Association received a threatening letter warning Hrvoje Zovko, containing derogatory language and stating that justice would reach him. The letter was signed by "DRAGOVOLJCI DOMOVINSKOG RATA, ZA DOM SPREMNI" (Volunteers of the Homeland War, Ready for the Homeland).
Police officer threatens, attacks female journalist at trial
On 26th October 2022, a female journalist with the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIN), an investigative outlet from Bosnia and Herzegovina, was threatened by Zoran Čegar, a Bosnian police officer on trial in Croatia for fraud. Days before, three CIN journalists published an investigative piece titled “The Double Life of Officer Čegar” alleging some of his property was acquired illegally. On 26th October, ahead of Čegar’s court hearing in a separate corruption case, the authors of the article were present at the courthouse and asked Čegar for a statement. The officer refused to reply, threatening a female journalist with “ripping out her throat” and moving to hit her, before being restrained by his lawyer and one of the journalist’s colleagues. He proceeded to threaten and insult all three journalists present, saying they had “no business writing about him” and that he was a war hero.
Our Bosnian colleagues @cinbih investigated a police chief for alleged fraud and extortion. In return, he threatened to rip their throats out.— Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (@OCCRP) November 3, 2022
Zoran Čegar’s senior position — despite years of scandal — is a symptom of the country’s struggle with impunity.https://t.co/py9bQnlTd9
Man accused of terrorist plot compiles “kill list” of journalists
On 23rd November 2022, Croatian media reported that a man arrested for plotting a terrorist attack had prepared a “kill list” which included the names of several prominent journalists in the country. The man was arrested in March 2022 and was found to have multiple weapons in his possession, including “pistols, hand grenades, a machine gun with silencer and laser aiming and a hand-held rocket launcher”. Police also discovered that the man had been gathering information about all his alleged targets, including journalists. According to Faktograf, a fact-checking portal whose editor-in-chief was included on the list, none of the journalists on the list had been informed their safety was at risk, and the state attorney’s office refused to answer their questions.