Attempts to ban CSOs; activists and journalists come under attack

Attempts to ban CSOs; activists and journalists come under attack
The army patrol streets during the COVID-19 state of emergency (Photo by: Srdjan Stevanovic / Getty Images)

Association

Petition to ban CSOs and cut state funding

The Balternativa movement states on its website that it is launching a long-announced petition to ban NGOs in Serbia. The text invites citizens to support their petition with signatures and announces that their members and activists will organise signature collection throughout Serbia. According to the petition, "it aims to ban the work of non-governmental organisations that posed a risk in the past for the national security of the Republic of Serbia”. They specifically ask the Republic Public Prosecutor to initiate proceedings at the Constitutional Court to ban the work of the following organisations: Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Open Society Foundations, the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, Humanitarian Law Centre, the Center for Cultural Decontamination, the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies and Women in Black. This movement was previously known for its public appearances in which it verbally attacked activists and civil society organisations (CSOs), calling them "traitors and foreign mercenaries."

The Serbian Radical Party of convicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj also advocates for banning the work of certain CSOs in his election campaign. They are proposing a law to ban state funding for NGOs, for which, as they stated, more than ten billion dinars is allocated from the republic budget every year. According to them, citizens should not pay “NGOs that openly engage in anti-Serbian policies and subversive activities.” Such dangerous rhetoric, which dates back to the 1990s, is an unequivocal attack on freedom of association and contributes to an even greater narrowing of the environment in which CSOs operate. It is also an open call for verbal attacks on organisations and their activists.

Expression

Activists face verbal attacks and threats

The Civic Front announced that an activist of the United Movement of Free Tenants from Nis, Jana Krstić, was verbally attacked on the Nisava quay by unknown young men who stopped her and threatened her because of a T-shirt she was wearing with the logo of the initiative ‘Don’t let Belgrade d(r)own’. This verbal attack took place at the same place where, a year ago, a group of neo-fascists stabbed student Uroš Janjić with a knife because of an anti-fascist T-shirt. Jana Krstić is one of the most recognisable activists of the United Movement of Free Tenants who participated in numerous protests, manifestations and actions. The Civic Front called on competent authorities to condemn this case, emphasising that in the past the authorities have expressed a mild response, which, according to them, is the reason for many incidents like this occurring in Nis.

"We believe that the attack on Jana is an attack on all of us and on all people who are close to the ideas of anti-fascism, freedom, solidarity and tolerance. The Civic Front demands that the competent authorities react and protect the citizens of Nis from the savagery of neo-fascist organisations”- The Civic Front (translated from Bosnian).

It is especially worrying that in recent months in Serbia there has been a more visible spread of hatred, violence and elements of fascism. However, there is a noticeable absence of reactions from competent authorities.

In a separate incident, after appearing as a guest on the show Pressing on N1 television, sociologist and researcher of the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI), Zoran Gavrilović, was the target of threats and insults on Twitter. The show in which Gavrilović appeared as a guest, together with a member of the Council of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM), Olivera Zekić, talked about the media scene in Serbia, the work of REM and the ban on the pre-election video in which President Aleksandar Vučić is with a child. This is not the first time that Gavrilović or BIRODI have been the target of verbal attacks and threats due to their independent work. Examples of labeling CSOs and individuals for the work they do have become more frequent in recent months, and speedy reactions from the competent authorities are most often absent. It is worrying that such attacks often come from government officials who occupy the highest state positions and who view CSOs as their opponents.

Attacks on the media
  • N1 television reported that their site and application were the target of a cyber attack, after which they were unavailable for some time. According to experts, the attack had "the same signature" as previous cyber attacks earlier this year. In January, the N1 site was also the target of DDoS attacks on several occasions. DDoS are attacks with thousands of computers aimed at overloading a web server, network or some other part of the infrastructure and thus preventing access to their users. It is important to mention that N1 television and its journalists are often the target of verbal attacks and insults from the pro-regime media, with many of these attacks coming from the highest state officials.
  • A photographer and a journalist from the portal “Juzne vesti” were verbally attacked on election day, in the yard of the Elementary School "Stefan Nemanja" in Nis. They photographed people holding lists with names and data in front of the polling station. These people then verbally attacked the journalist and the photographer, threatened them and asked them to delete the photos. The police quickly arrived, took a statement from the attacked journalist and photographer and then found the attacker himself, who was calmly leaving the yard of the school where the incident took place.
  • In a post on its Facebook page, the Municipal Board of the Serbian Radical Party, openly targeted journalist of Forum Television and editor of the Forum info portal, Mirela Veljovic. The post, which practically represents a statement because it was posted on the official FB page, puts pressure on the freedom of the media by publishing a photo of the journalist and making various accusations around her objectivity and professionalism. According to Forum Television, it is especially worrying that the statement has a religious affiliation and implies that her writing is an attack on Zoran Despotovic because he is "of Serbian nationality" and Veljovic is Muslim or Bosnian.
  • Journalist Sasa Mikic was beaten in Kikinda, after leaving a local polling station. He was attacked by three unidentified men who hit him all over his body, mostly on his face, leaving him with cuts and bruises. The incident took place around 4pm on 21st June 2020 when Mikic came to the local polling station with the aim of reporting on the voting process in Kikinda. He introduced himself and showed his journalist identification and asked for a statement from the president of the polling board at that polling station. After two phone calls made by the president of the polling station, it became clear that there would be no statements given. As Mikic was leaving, he was attacked by three men. The Safe Journalists Network and the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia condemned the attack on election day.
“The attack on Mikic on election day is the culmination of months of intimidation, threats and pressure faced by Serbian journalists during the coronavirus and election campaign - said Zeljko Bodrozic, president of NUNS.
  • The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia also issued a statement on frequent attacks on local journalists. It condemned the attacks on local media journalists that took place in the days before the elections and on election day itself and demanded that state authorities identify the perpetrators of the attacks and threats and initiate court proceedings.