Monday 20.9.2021 in Latest Developments in Serbia Country Page
- Under the common narrative that “CSOs are foreign mercenaries and enemies of the state”, the “Srpski Telegraf” tabloid published an article entitled "Western Megaphones Get Millions" presenting unverified information about financial transactions, donors and projects carried out by media and civil society organisations. This prompted over 70 civil society organisations to send an open letter to Gordana Čomić, the Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue asking her to recognise, condemn and prevent attacks on civil society and media orchestrated by the government. The letter also specifically highlighted the “dangerous, and completely incorrect statements” made byPresident Vučić, who has stated that CSOs are avoiding paying taxes.
“We also call on the relevant institutions, as well as all actors in society, to join the fight against a new wave of pressure on the media and CSOs, and to oppose these and such abuses, which lead to a further collapse of democracy and the rule of law....the position of media and civil society in Serbia has long been marked as unfavourable according to the reports of all relevant international organisations.” (translated from Serbian).
- Deputy Mayor Goran Vesić accused Nemanja Nenadic, programme director of Transparency Serbia of wanting to “expel Novak Djoković from Serbia” after Transparency Serbia warned of potential corruption regarding the lease tender for a sports complex. The organisation warned that the tender conditions are defined in such a way that only a company owned by the Novak Djokovic family can meet those conditions, for which it faced a strong reaction from the official.
- Activist Petar Zivanovic was beaten by four unknown men in the presence of an official of the "Fruška gora" National Park who, according to his words, instead of restraining them, encouraged the attackers to beat him even more. Zivanovic has been collecting garbage at Fruška Gora for months and leaving it in front of the National Park Administration building. According to him, the injuries are not severe, but Zivanovic reported the case and criminal charges will be filed against the attackers.
- After an activist of the "Let's Not Drown Belgrade" Initiative together with MEP Viola von Cramon visited the landfill in Vinca, where a fire had been burning for several days and causing notable air pollution in Belgrade, pro-government tabloids published texts which connect the visit with the cause of the fire. These accusations are part of a continuous smear campaign against the initiative and its prominent members, without any institutional acquittal.
Police fined citizens who supported the protest of the Initiative "For a roof over your head" in front of the Presidency building, which was staged as the Kocic family was forcefully evicted from their apartment. Citizens came to protest in solidarity with the family, who was evicted despite paying the entire debt on their house. Among the participants in the protest were members of the Kocic family, who tried to enter the Presidency building in order to seek protection from authorities, but were prevented from doing so by the communal police.
- The Crime and Corruption Investigation Network (KRIK) was targeted by an organised media campaign after publishing an article with transcripts of the interrogation of Veljko Belivuk, head of a criminal group suspected of serious crimes, revealing alleged connections of the criminal group with the President’s family. KRIK has been accused of being in direct contact with a criminal group and of “working together on the political overthrow of Aleksandar Vučić”. The Journalists’ Association of Serbia condemned this campaign, emphasising that it is endangering the safety of KRIK journalists, and that labelling journalists as members or sympathisers of criminal groups is absolutely unacceptable. The Coalition for Freedom of the Media pointed out that it is the job of journalists to report on problems in the country, and that no one should be endangered due to their journalistic work.
- Aleksandar Vulin, the Minister of Police, falsely claimed that the NIN journalist Vuk Cvijić is a member of the opposition party, in an attempt to disparage his work and attack his professional integrity. The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and the Association of Journalists of Serbia reacted that such a campaign against Vuk Cvijić had been conducted in the past as well through pro-government tabloids and that it is necessary to stop this practice immediately. Unfortunately, following these statements, the Socialist Movement, headed by Minister Vulin, reacted with a statement that conveyed another very dangerous message, stating that journalist Cvijić believes that the arrested members of a criminal group are innocent, although this was not said in any context by Vuk Cvijić. As a result, not only were his reputation and professional integrity violated, but also his security.
- Journalists and co-authors of the show "Good, Bad, Evil" Marko Vidojković and Nenad Kulačin filed criminal charges against Aleksandar Šapić, a high official of the ruling party for death threats directed at them after they invited Šapić for a guest appearance on Pink TV. Vidojković and Kulačin pointed out that they did not feel safe, bearing in mind that the threats came from an extremely powerful political person and they feared that relevant institutions would not be able to protect them from threats.
- The owners of the Millennium Team company, Ivan Bošnjak and Stojan Vujko, filed a new lawsuit against Ljiljana Stojanović, the editor-in-chief of the Regional Information Agency JUGpress, amounting to two million dinars (17,009 Euros). This lawsuit is a continuation of the practice of filing so-called SLAPP lawsuits against local media that seriously endanger their financial survival, but also a strong indication that the previous announcement by the Millennium Team leadership that all compensation claims against the media would be reduced to a symbolic amount of 100 euros will not materialise. Filing such lawsuits is not only a tactic used by the Millennium Team company. The "Adria media group" company, the founder of the tabloid Kurir, have also filed lawsuits against the daily newspaper and portals Danas, Cenzolovka and Raskrinkavanje and civil society organisation Center for Intercultural Communication asking for compensation amounting to as much as 11 million dinars (93,551 Euros).
- Jelena Obućina,TV journalist at Newsmax Adria was the target of a tabloid smear campaign after a photo of her private conversation with one of the opposition leaders was published. In the days after the controversial photo was published, the origin of which has not yet been determined, pro-government tabloids published dozens of texts insinuating that Obućina has political connections with the opposition, thus calling into question her work and professional integrity.
- Simo Spasić, president of the Association of Families of Kidnapped, Killed and Missing from Kosovo and Metohija, known for obstructing press conferences of opposition politicians and insulting and threatening journalists and activists, sent death threats to "Južne vesti" journalist Aleksandar Stankov via SMS. As this is not the first time that Spasić's has attacked the media, the Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Niš has already initiated proceedings against him. Spasić was to be questioned on 29th September 2021, after which a decision would be made on whether to initiate proceedings against him.
- The Nova.rs journalist team was attacked during reporting on the demolition of a pre-war palace that was sold to a private investor, despite the fact that it met the conditions for obtaining the status of a cultural monument. During the incident, two men who introduced themselves as investors' representatives tried to ask the journalist team for IDs, and after they refused to do so because the men were not authorised to identify themselves, they threatened to break the camera of the journalists and cameramen if they continued to record the public area and the ruin on which the building used to stand. Shortly after the incident, the company "LR FRUIT", which is the owner of the disputed facility, came forward and apologised for the behaviour.