Croatian journalists face intimidation, harassment and death threats

Expression

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, journalists in Croatia can face harassment, intimidation and even physical violence. This most recent update on the country demonstrates that such threats to freedom of expression have continued unabated. 

On 12th June 2017, the editor-in-chief of weekly newspaper Nacional received a barrage of insults and death threats from a businessman, Krešimir Gilja, who is on trial for murder. Berislav Jelinić received a series of threatening text messages and phone calls from Gilja after the Nacional decided to postpone the publication of an article featuring an interview with Gilja who is currently on trial for his role in a shooting which killed one person and wounded two others in a Zagreb bar in 1999. After reporting the threats to Croatian authorities, Gilja was promptly arrested and sentenced to one month in prison, where he has reportedly been on a hunger strike. While media freedom groups have welcomed Gilja's swift prosecution, they have also drawn attention to the ongoing issue of impunity in cases involving abuses against journalists in Croatia. In a statementCroatian Journalists' Association affirmed that it 

"...welcomes rapid response of competent bodies in this case. At the same time we would like to remind the public that very many threats against journalists, including death threats, has not yet been closed".

In another incident, a journalist covering an eviction in Zagreb was subjected to threats and intimidation. On 5th July 2017, investigative journalist Domagoj Margetic was targeted while gathering footage of an eviction for Austrian BKS Bank. Despite having his press card visible, Margetic was accosted by an unidentified individual who attempted to block him from filming and threatened him with physical violence if he did not leave. While Margetic tried to explain that he had a permit to film in the location, the individual threatened to "knock him down" if he didn't "get lost". It later transpired that the unidentified individual was actually a Zagreb Municipal Court Official, who failed to identify himself or produce any official documentation to justify asking Margetic to leave. While it is unclear as to whether the perpetrator was operating in a personal or professional capacity, freedom of speech groups have drawn attention to the consistent abuse endured by investigative journalists, such as Margetic.  

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Margetic was also assaulted in Zagreb in late 2016 and also survived an attempt on his life in 2014. Sadly, the case mentioned above was not the only instance of Margetic being harassed over the past few months. On 2nd August 2017, Margetic reported that his apartment in Zagreb was broken into by unknown individuals. During the burglary, Margetic's laptop and hard drive were stolen, both of which contained sensitive information he had gathered as part of his investigative work. In a letter to Croatia's Prime Minister, Margetic called upon Croatian authorities to intervene and protect him from the ongoing harassment. In the letter, Margetic expressed frustration over the theft of his property, stating: 

"For this plunder of my apartment, which obviously was not pure robbery, but stealing documents which I was working on and [prevent] my basic means for normal operation and functioning, and to work on stories that could be sensitive to the current government, and it is this documentation and materials apparently been the target of today's robbery..."

The incident was later reported to Croatian police and an investigation into the break-in is currently underway. 

In a separate incident, on 21st June 2017 a journalist for Index.hr was insulted and attacked in Zagreb. Vojislav Mazzocca was insulted and attacked while reporting on a protest by taxi drivers against the use of the personal driver app, Uber. Mazzocca was confronted by an unidentified participant of the protest and prevented from taking pictures. Taxi drivers in Croatia claim not enough has been done to tackle the illegal usage of the app which has begun to infringe upon their livelihoods. As documented in the video below, taxi drivers across Croatia protested by blocking roads in Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split.  

Evidence has emerged of authorities meddling in the operation of Croatian public broadcaster HRT TV. Domagoj Novokmet, the editor and head of the TV Show "Otvoreno" was recently removed from his position following the episode entitled "Corruption in Sport". The unexplained replacement of Novokmet has led many to question whether his dismissal was politically motivated. The Journalist's Association of Croatia called upon authorities to ensure that impartiality and fairness is upheld at all times. 

Concerns over media coverage of issues affecting ethnic minorities have also been documented in recent months. In early July, Serbian National Council (SNV) presented an analysis of 1,500 news articles to prove the lack of coverage of issues facing Croatia's Serb community. After analysing articles from the five most popular newspapers, SNV demonstrated that the Serbian minority is often overlooked or referred to in a derogatory manner in the mainstream media. In a statement, a researcher from SNV commented on the findings, stating:

“In Croatia, the media did not create a space for the Serbian minority to speak [about their problems]; usually somebody else speaks in their name… a voice would very rarely be given to a person who lives that experience”.

SNV also noted that the continued misrepresentation of the Serbian minority could lead to a situation of worsening ethnic tensions in Croatia. 

Peaceful Assembly

A number of protests have taken place recently in Croatia as follows: 

  • Citizens protested in support of the anti-fascist struggle and against the proposed name change of Marshall Tito Square, despite the fact that the change of the name has been accepted by the Board for Appointment of Settlements, Streets and Squares;
  • "Island Movement", a network of more than 60 associations and local self-governments, protested by turning Mark's Square into a beach against Concessions Act, while many others protested along the coast
  • Citizens protested in 6 cities within the GOOD initiative demanding better education system and curricular reform; 
  • “Split is Burning” initiative protested over institutions malfunctioning during times of crises;
  • Croatian taxi drivers protested against Uber; 
  • Split residents protested in solidarity with a mother whose child was to be taken by the police and given to its father; 
  • Citizens protested against pollution of Bakarski Bay; 
  • Associations “Anti-Antifa and “Croatian Patriot” protested against totalitarianism and communist symbols; 
  • The LGBTI community and their supporters held Pride Parades Zagreb and in Split
  • Activists of Živi Zid (Living Wall) political party and other citizens protested by blocking the vehicles of court bailiffs. During the mobilisation two activists were briefly detained and later released.