Insults, threats and physical attacks against journalists remain a serious concern

Expression

As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, the conditions for independent journalists reporting in Croatia remains a concern. A recent series of attacks against journalists shows the serious decline in respect for freedom of expression. This update documents some of those most recent threats, insults and physical attacks. 

Physical attacks on journalists

On 18th April, a journalist was beaten by two employees of a private security firm in Split. Sinisa Vickov with Radio Brac was attacked while covering a session of the County Assembly of Split-Dalmatia. Although Vickov was initially admitted into the meeting, after briefly leaving, he was reportedly prevented from reentering the session. Despite making it clear he was a journalist, Vickov was brutally attacked leaving him with two broken ribs and a concussion. While a police report was subsequently filed, the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) urged the authorities to conduct a swift investigation into the incident, stating that:

"HND demands that the relevant institutions urgently identify and punish the perpetrators behind this shameful attack on a journalist who was doing his job".

Footage below (from 6.30 onwards) shows Vickov after the attack, with signs of the attack on his face and a torn jacket.  

On 12th May 2017, the mayor of Požega physically attacked Mladen Mirkovic, a journalist from the online media outlet - "034portal.hr." Mayor Vedran Neferović allegedly pushed Mirkovic against a wall, punched him and then pushed him through a door at the town hall in Požega. According to Mirkovic, shortly before he was attacked, Neferović called him into his office and asked for more information about an article recently published on 034portal.hr. Mirkovic was taken to the hospital for treatment and filed a criminal charge against Neferović. A restraining order was subsequently issued against the Mayor. 

Threats against journalists 

  • On 25th April 2017, a mayoral candidate in Split verbally threatened a journalist at a press conference. Prospective mayor, Zeljko Kerum, lashed out at Ivana Šilović, a journalist from HRT, when she questioned him about his finances, namely his company's debt. The politician responded with a barrage of insults, threatening the journalist to "watch what you say". Many claim that the brazen nature of the attack shows how verbal threats against journalists often go unpunished in Croatia. Kerum was ultimately unsuccessful in his mayoral campaign.       
  • In May, a prominent political journalist was victim of an onslaught of abuse after interviewing Ivana Pernara, the leader of Croatian political party, Živi zid. During an interview on Nedjeljom u 2, Pernara accused journalist and host Aleksandar Stanković of failing to ask questions on important issues and then criticised him on social media. Shortly after the interview, Stanković started receiving threats from party activists affiliated with Živi zid. Following a police investigation, one of the perpetrators behind the threats was sentenced to a seven month suspended prison sentence with a two-year probationary period.
  • Croatian MP Zeljko Glasnović insulted a reporter working for RTL during an interview on 5th May 2017. Reporter Ivan Skorin asked the MP to explain his ties with Croatian politician Milorad Pupovac, when Glasnović reportedly replied: 
"Please? How would you like me take that microphone and put it in your ass? Would you like that?"

Positive developments 

In a positive development, the newspaper Novi List condemned an opinion piece published in its own paper. The article, published in early April, criticised the recently-signed Declaration on the Common Language, an anti-nationalist declaration that gained wide support across the Western Balkans by acknowledging that Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin are all dialects of the same language. The article published by a right-wing author, claimed the declaration promoted pro-Yugoslav and Greater Serbian aspirations, a position which was widely slammed for purposefully stirring up ethnic tensions. In a statement, a member of Novi List's editorial board commented on the piece, stating: 

“According to our judgment, it breaches article 1, which stipulates what kind of values Novi list represents: human rights, democracy, the rule of law, human dignity. This article represents a negation of all these values”.

The news outlet released an apology over the article and publicly distanced themselves from the opinions expressed within it. 

Peaceful Assembly

While the majority of recent protests in Croatia have been peaceful, the security forces intervened on two occasions. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the subject of abortion is a highly controversial issue in Croatia. During a recent march called Walk for Life in opposition to abortion, the police had to intervene to prevent clashes between participants and pro-choice activists. On 20th May 2017, security forces in Zagreb arrested several pro-choice activists when they attempted to block an estimated 15,000 participants from marching.

Protests outside a performance of the controversial play "Your Violence and Our Violence" in Split, were forcefully dispersed by security forces for disturbing the audience. The play has prompted criticism among religious institutions and politicians alike for its depiction of multiple religious figures engaged in acts which some find offensive. Organisers claim that the play simply aims to show Europe's response to the refugee crisis through the lens of flawed political and religious ideologies. The video below shows footage from the play.  

A variety of other protests have taken place peacefully over the past few months, including: 

  • Walk for Life marches in Zagreb and Split;
  • International Labour Day protests in many cities, including Zagreb and Slavonski Brod to demand higher salaries for Croatian workers and better working conditions;
  • Production workers in Zvečeva d.d. factory in Požega started a strike to demand their unpaid March salaries;
  • Citizens protested for the 11th year in a row, demanding that the main Marshal Tito Square be renamed;
  • Fathers protested to demand that fathers not to be deprived of their children in divorce cases;
  • Split residents protested in front of the Croatian National Theatre calling for the cancellation of the play "Your Violence and Our Violence" and protesters also organised a protest during the play's performance.