Harassment and intimidation of journalists continue unabated
The Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering at the Ministry of Finance has compiled a list of organisations and individuals and asked banks to inspect all their transactions in the last year. In this way, the Administration activated the mechanism provided by law in order to investigate these organisations’ possible participation in "money laundering" or terrorist financing. The list includes 20 individuals and 37 organisations or associations who are known for doing work which is critical of the current regime (see previous update for full details).
CSO and its activists targeted
The phantom portal "Prismotra.net" published two texts which accused the "Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development - CEKOR" and its activists of being informers of foreign services, tasked to work against the interests of Chinese investments in Serbia. The text labels CEKOR as “the economic killers of Serbia”. Apart from targeting the organisation itself, which is accused of cooperating with the "Bosnian intelligence service", the text also targets several activists of that association. The legal representative of CEKOR pointed out that not only does the text damage the reputation of the organisation, but it also seeks to intimidate the activists. The association became the target of attacks, among other things, due to its criticism of the company Electric Power Industry of Serbia, which rejected every request for access to information about the work conducted by the company. The second text alleges that CEKOR received money for non-existent projects.
This case is just one in a series of tabloid attacks against all those associations that are committed to transparency in their work and who are demanding answers from the competent authorities to questions concerning the safety, health and general well-being of the citizens of Serbia. Lately, the matrix of attacks, which are mostly organised with the logistical help of phantom sites and portals where unsigned texts are published, are becoming more visible. This makes it even more difficult for disinterested bodies to find the perpetrators responsible for these attacks, which leads to such actions going unpunished.
During the reporting period, anti-government protests were staged following an announcement of the re-introduction of a curfew due to the worsening of the epidemiological situation related to COVID-19. A full update on what unfolded during these protests can be found here.
Also according to our joint @CoEMediaFreedom Annual report, in #Serbia, the number of attacks on media, including death threats, is on the rise, and inflammatory rhetoric often comes from public officials: https://t.co/4W1wA8wvBI @EuropeElects https://t.co/nFU6zj2kG4— ECPMF (@ECPMF) June 22, 2020
Several verbal threats against journalists were documented during the reporting period:
- The cameraman of KTV Zrenjanin was attacked for reporting from a polling station during the voting in Tomaševac. The incident took place when the team of KTV Zrenjanin noticed numerous irregularities, including a group of people who carried lists, which raised suspicion that they are keeping a parallel record of voters - a gross violation of the rules of the election process. Officials of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party were spotted among the people running the parallel lists. This behavior is yet again proof of a compromised election process. In addition, this attack is seen as an attempt at violent censorship against the media, who are trying to inform the public objectively and truthfully.
- The Minister of Culture and Information, Vladan Vukosavljević, sent an open and insulting letter to the journalist Nedim Sejdimović, regarding his articles for the daily “Danas”. Sejdimović and several other journalists were commenting on Vukosavljević's public appearance in which he expressed “condolences over the death of communism” to the first editor-in-chief of Danas, Grujica Spasović. In the open letter, the Minister Vukosavljević said that Sejdimović would "benefit from returning to his natural habitat, where such members of the fauna normally live". Such rhetoric not only represents impermissible pressure on freelance journalists but is also damaging to the reputation of the institution of the Minister of Culture and Information. The Independent Association of Journalists (NUNS) of Vojvodina called for the immediate dismissal of Minister Vukosavljevic, emphasising that the absence of any sanction would be very dangerous for the further functioning of the media in Serbia. NUNS also called on state officials to harmonise their public appearances with the public functions they perform and to show basic integrity.
- NUNS condemned the behavior of the President Aleksandar Vučić towards Olivera Jovićević, a journalist at Radio Television of Serbia, during his guest appearance on the show "Questionnaire". NUNS stated that the president's behavior was outside the framework of decent behavior and unworthy of the function he performs. They called on Aleksandar Vučić to send a public apology to journalist Jovićević. This is not the first case of indecent behavior towards journalists by President Vučić which has become a frequent occurrence.
“Journalists and other media actors make an important contribution to public debate and opinion-forming processes in a democratic society by acting as public and social guardians and creating a common space for the exchange of information and ideas, as well as for discussion. Their role as guardians includes, inter alia, informing the public about matters of public interest, commenting on these matters, holding public authorities and other powerful forces in society accountable, and exposing corruption and abuse of power.”- NUNS
- A correspondent for N1 television was prohibited from recording footage of a site after the collapse of a portion of an old building of the Kragujevac market, which occurred after construction workers undermined part of the foundations of that building. The manager of the contractors verbally threatened the N1 journalist. After that, the head of the Secretariat for communal affairs of the city of Kragujevac, Radosav Vulović, asked the N1 reporter to identify himself and questioned whether he had a recording permit. The Association of Citizens of the Šumadija Region requested that the names of the people who threatened the journalists be made public. This case is just one in a series in which journalists are prevented from doing their job. Journalists of N1 television in particular have been the target of a cruel tabloid campaign and attacks by government officials for months, and even years.
- The municipal board of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Vranje issued a statement in which journalist and editor of the InfoVranjska portal, Sasa Stojković, was insulted and belittled in a very primitive way. Stojković was targeted for a text in which he addressed the issue of forming the government in Bujanovac without the participation of the SNS and the current conflict between the authorities in Surdulica and the ruling party. The statement from the political party accuses Stojković of "loving Shiptars (Albanians) and their institutions". NUNS condemned this attack, as not only did the text target the journalist and his family, but human dignity. It stated that this rhetoric is proof of the drastic deterioration of dialogue within public space, and it is especially problematic that this type of communication comes from people who exercise power and should act as representatives of all citizens.
- Nikola Stevanovic, journalist of the bujanovacke.co.rs portal, was verbally attacked while photographing the gardens of Bujanovac cafes to report on events in the city under the COVID-19 emergency measures. An unknown man insulted him and also threatened to "beat him". In the following days, the public revealed that the man who threatened the journalist was employed as a traffic policeman who was off duty at the time of the incident. He was sitting in the presence of two uniformed police officers who did not react to his threats but instead laughed. The Police Administration in Vranje announced that criminal charges would be filed against the attacker as there are grounds for suspicion that he committed a criminal offence of endangering security.
- A group of 89 civil society organisations and the media filed a complaint with the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, due to the incomplete response of the Institute of Public Health of Serbia "Batut" regarding data on the health of Serbian citizens during the COVID-19 epidemic. On 9th July 2020, a request was sent to the "Batut" institute requesting information on the number of tested citizens, on the number of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and the number of hospitalised patients. Instead of a response, organisations were referred to the Office for Information Technology and Electronic Administration of the Government of Serbia and the Ministry of Health, as data processors presented to the public. The denial of this information to the public has caused an increase in distrust in the work of the Crisis Staff and the competent authorities, which creates fertile ground for the dissemination of unverified information that can negatively affect public health.
📣 Probušena guma na vozilu urednika TV N1— NUNS (@NUNS_1994) August 15, 2020
👉🏼 Uredniku TV N1 Branislavu Šovljanskom isečena je guma sa pet uboda oštrim predmetom na privatnom automobilu u ulici Palmira Toljatija u Beogradu, u blizini stana u kome živi. Slučaj je prijavljen policiji koja je brzo postupila... ⬇️
- Journalist and editor of "N1" television Branislav Šovljanski’s car had a flat tyre while parked near his apartment. An unknown perpetrator punctured the tyre on his car five times with a sharp object, confirming the suspicion that it was not a coincidence or a combination of circumstances. Journalists of "N1" television are the most frequent targets of cruel tabloid campaigns, open threats through social networks and, lately, more often than before, they have been threatened in person. It is worrying that in most cases there is no reaction from competent authorities, where none of the attackers will be prosecuted, which indicates, at the very least, the negligent attitude of state authorities. This only encourages the attackers’ actions. In addition, there is a noticeable trend of an increasing number of threats towards journalists. In just one week during August 2020 as many as five cases of attacks on journalists were recorded.
[#SafeJournalists]— NUNS (@NUNS_1994) August 19, 2020
❗️〽️U periodu od nedelju dana u Srbiji je registrovano pet incidenata u kojima je targetirano šest novinara, uključujući fizički napad, pretnje smrću oružjem, upad u imovinu i pretnje smrću članovima porodice, bušenje guma...https://t.co/qfQGX4ngaB
- The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia condemned the discriminatory attitude of the acting director of the General Hospital in Novi Pazar, Meho Mahmutović, towards independent journalists and the media in that city due to the frequent practice of not inviting journalists to press conferences. During his last public address, Mahmutović only invited two journalists who are close to him, thus denying other journalists the right to freely and professionally perform their jobs and the right of citizens to receive objective and timely information. This dangerous practice of distinguishing between "eligible" and "unsuitable" journalists is extremely harmful and threatens freedom of information. This practice is especially problematic in the context of a global pandemic,restricting or virtually closing off communication channels to those who are required to inform the public. Due to the obvious violation of the law and unprofessional attitude towards the media, NUNS publicly supported an initiative by doctors calling for Mahmutović's removal as they believe that he is responsible for the poor work by the General Hospital services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The non-governmental organisation Sandzak Committee for Human Rights also condemned such actions of the authorities and the frequent attacks on media representatives.
“NGOs and the media will continue to work in accordance with the mission and vision of civil society in the fight for a democratic and free environment, regardless of unbearable conditions and polluted public space.” (translated from Bosnian)
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that the home of Jeton Ismaili, editor ofthe Albanian-language news website FOLonline, was broken into by unknown men, who shouted “insults and death threats” at Ismaili’s wife and children. Ismaili was not at home when the incident occurred. The attack was reported to the police who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident occurred. Ismaili believes that the attack is linked to his COVID-19 coverage.
“It is encouraging to see Serbian law enforcement responding quickly to the attack on journalist Jeton Ismaili and his family. Authorities must follow through on the case and ensure those responsible are held to account. Threatening a journalist because of his coverage is completely unacceptable, and Serbian authorities must ensure the safety of Ismaili and his family.” - Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York.