Coarsening online debates stoke concern
Zabrinjava porast govora mržnje na internetu u Hrvatskoj https://t.co/YZKhuF44is— Al Jazeera Balkans (@AJBalkans) October 21, 2019
As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, concerns over the space for freedom of expression have characterised much of 2019. In particular, there has been concern over a perceived increase in pressure on investigative reporters. A recent analysis conducted by Croatia's Office of the Ombudswoman has shown an increase in hate speech on the internet in Croatia. At a recent conference in Zagreb, Croatia's Deputy Public Prosecutor Tena Simonovic Einwalter highlighted that the issue had been growing around issues of race, ethnicity and political orientation. In her intervention Simonovic Einwalter said:
"In a politically agitated and sometimes polarised system, you see people who are politically abusive using hate speech. We also see hate speech against LGBT people, but also many other groups. There is so much hate speech, unfortunately. I can find examples for each group."
In response, the Human Rights House in Croatia called for stricter sentencing for those that espouse hate speech. Yet, the organisation also called for a balanced approach which does not endanger freedom of expression.
Hrvatsko novinarsko društvo smatra da ova presuda nije u skladu s europskim standardima zaštite slobode izražavanja, jer nije riječ o privatnom razgovoru, a komunikacija državnih dužnosnika s novinarima uvijek je tema od javnog interesa. https://t.co/eNWfqqyiBY— HND (@HNDhr) November 8, 2019
In a separate incident on 8th November 2019, the Croatian Journalists Association (HND) expressed concern over the sentence given to the journalist Ivan Žada for recording a phone conversation without authorisation. Žada had recorded part of a phone conversation with Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) MP Josip Đakić in 2018, where he asked the MP about threats sent by his son. Prior to the phone call, Đakić's son had contacted Žada saying that he would "break his neck" or "pay someone in Zagreb 500 euro to do it. Žada went on to post the transcript on Facebook and the Index.hr website. For recording the conversation, Žada was given a four month suspended sentence with one year's probation. The HND responded strongly to the sentence. A spokesperson for the organisation said:
"The sentence is not in line with European standards of protection of freedom of expression because that was not a private conversation and state officials' communication with journalists is always of public interest”.
HND stated that this conviction is the latest example of recent sentences in which the media has been persecuted where the plaintiffs are members of the ruling HDZ party.
The end of 2019 saw several mass mobilisations on a variety of issues in Croatia. Below are some examples:
- 100 medical nurses protested demanding a 25% increase in their wages.
- 7000 people gathered in Zagreb taking part in the ‘Justice for girls’ protest, which was organised in support of all victims of sexual abuse. The protest was spurred after it was reported that a girl was raped in Zadar, while five suspects were allowed to go home and were not detained by the police. Peaceful gatherings were also held in another 15 cities in Croatia.
- Citizens of Sisačko-moslavačke county protested against the proposed building of a nuclear waste plan in the city of Dvor. The municipality agreed with their request and voted against the nuclear waste plant.
- Around 200 parents of children with special needs gathered in Zagreb to ask for better support from the country and an improvement to their facilities.
- On 6th November 2019, well over 2000 teachers protested for an increase in their wages in Zagreb.
On 22nd November 2019, The Council for Development of Civil Society announced a National Strategy for creating an enabling environment for civil society. The meeting, held in Zagreb, discussed a detailed programme of the measures and activities to be taken between 2020 and 2026 in order to improve space for Croatian civil society. Footage from the consultation can be seen in the video below.