Protests against city plan met with violence; Pride Centre targeted

Protests against city plan met with violence; Pride Centre  targeted
Environmental rights protests continue to face repressions (REUTERS/Marko Djurica via Gallo Images).

Association

Let’s not Drown Belgrade activist attacked

On the evening of 11th May 2022, Milos Vučković, a member and activist of the Let’s Not Drown Belgrade movement was physically assaulted. It is believed that the activist was attacked by the same person who attacked him on Election Day outside a polling station in the Belgrade municipality of Zvezdara (see previous update). The Network for Democratic Dialogue has called on the authorities to investigate.

Fourteenth attack on the Pride Info Centre

On 7th June 2022, the premises of the Pride Info Center in Belgrade was attacked again when the neo-nazi group Belgrader Jugend put stickers on its office windows. As reported by Belgrade Prajd, this is the fourteenth attack on the Centre since its opening, with none of the previous attackers caught, except in one case when attackers were detained but did not face any penalties. On 14th June 2022, the Ministry of the Interior announced that a consultation process has been concluded with the prosecutor’s office and it found that there were “no elements of crime” in this case. The Citizen’s Protector (Ombudsman) has also initiated a formal process of evaluating the work of the police in this case. This attack come during the preparation for EuroPride 2022 which will take place in Belgrade from 12 to 19th September 2022.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests against city plan met with violence

On 21st July 2022, protests were held in Novi Sad against the General Urban Pal (GUP), which was adopted by the city assembly, despite public opposition from over 12,000 people via a petition. The plan provides a blueprint of how the city will develop in the future. Protesters were met with violence and detained. In one case, a man was pulled from the protest and knocked to the ground by private security before being detained. In response to the violence, a week later another protest entitled Revolt against the mafia was staged. The protesters demanded that the perpetrators of the violence be held accountable and are calling for a referendum on the GUP. N1 reports that some protesters spilled paint and broke a window at the offices of the SNS party. The mayor of Novi Sad called the protesters “thugs” and accused them of using ecology as an excuse to “create disorder”, while President Vucic said that the protests were organised by “an aggressive, civic-oriented group”. Civil society organisations called on the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) to protect citizens who were exposed to attacks from private security and to halt repressive measures and excessive force by MUP members. 

Expression

Threats against journalists

  • Podrinske editor-in-chief Isidora Kovačević received threats from an unknown person via social media.Following an announcement criticising the Serbian Progressive Party Kovacevic received threats stating that "she should stop writing, otherwise they will start making announcements about her until she ends up in an asylum". The journalist has faced several other threats prior to this, yet no case has ever been solved by the police.
  • Danas journalist Snežana Čongradin received threats and insults from anonymous users on social media. According to the newspaper, the threats made on this occasion are reminiscent of those sent to Čongradin from the official profile of the Serbian Football Association last year, and that investigation is still ongoing. Danas also reported that the newspaper's journalists have recently been subjected to attacks and death threats, mostly from unknown online profiles.
  • Journalist Dinko Gruhonjić received threats directed at him and members of his family. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) said that Gruhonjić has been subjected to pressure and threats for a long time, with his family included in the latter. The person who identified himself as a "Serb and chetnik", via Facebook, threatened Gruhonjić, alleging he was a "traitor". The same person was trying to call Gruhonjić through the Facebook Messenger app.
  • On 22nd May 2022, Partizan Club fans chanted against the editor-in-chief of Insajder TV, Brankica Stanković, during a basketball game in Belgrade. The Insajder portal stated that competent institutions did not react to this, despite the incident happening in front of a full hall and being broadcast on live TV. The chanting took place after the 2009 Insajder series “Powerlessness of the State” was rebroadcast. At the time of the initial broadcast, Stanković had received police protection after the series was presented. Insajder stated that “it was shown that time had passed, but some things did not change”, while the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) condemned the intimidation.,
  • Between May and June 2022, the premises of OK Radio and the bar that works within the same space in Vranje were attacked by unknown men for the third time in a row. The owner and employees of the radio are being threatened over reporting the construction of an illegal project just next to them, which had been suspended by the inspectorate for not having the necessary permits. In the last attack, on 7th June 2022, employees found windows in a separate office completely walled up. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) reacted, stating that it was “horrified by these savage attacks” on their member, concerned that these attacks could evolve into physical ones. The Coalition for Free Media also reacted by calling on relevant bodies to detain the attackers and those who ordered the attacks.

Physical attacks against journalists

  • On 27th May 2022, Novosti journalist Marijana Kutlača was physically attacked in Belgrade after trying to film an incident happening on the street in front of the city transport bus in which she was a passenger. The attack on Kutlača took place after three persons blocked the road and damaged the bus and then one of the suspects physically assaulted her. The case was reported to the police and the competent prosecutor's office initiated a case against the attacker. Kutlača stated that she was in shock and that none of the passengers in the bus reacted or defended her from the attack.
  • On 28th May 2022, Nova.rs portal journalists were attacked again while reporting from a scene of a burning restaurant in Belgrade. The journalists were approached by a man who threatened and insulted them, then demanded that they delete the restaurant footage. Despite the journalists insisting that the situation be solved in the presence of the police, the attacker did now allow them to move. The Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the attacker was later arrested. As stated by the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), this case was “a new attack on journalists who report from the field” and that this was “a situation in which journalists were directly exposed to physical harm” which has become more common.
  • On 14th June 2022, Bulgarian National Television (BNT) journalists and several environmental activists were attacked while trying to film a documentary on environmental pollution in the Podvirovi mine area in southern Serbia. According to media sources, journalists and activists got close to the mine entrance when six to seven persons attacked them with stones. Amongst the attackers was the director of Bosil Metal enterprise Miodrag Vukajlović, as well as the head of mine security and workers in the mine. BNT stated that activists sustained mild bodily injuries and that their camera was also damaged. BNT also announced that they were regularly accredited by the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia for filming at this location and that they reported the incident to the police, but no information has been made available thus far regarding an investigation into the attack.

Journalists barred from the trial of an environmental activist

On 17th May 2022, journalists and citizens were removed from the trial of Dragana Arsić, an environmental activist, in a proceeding initiated by the co-owner of Galens company Sanja Petrić. The public was removed after the plaintiff’s lawyer announced that someone photographed his client in court. The defendant’s lawyer stated that the judge had the discretion to limit the presence of the public, despite the free space available at the courtroom, after which it was suggested that the trial be moved to a larger hall. Due to their environmental activism, activist Dragana Arsić, the Lets Defend the Forests of Fruska Gora movement, and the civic association Fruškać have faced SLAPP lawsuits from the co-owners of Galens, demanding compensation of 800 000 dinars (6,931USD) from them for “inflicted mental pain”.

Nova.rs portal faces accusations from Prime Minister

Several accusations were made by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić against Nova.rs after an interview the portal published with the government minister on 1st June 2022. Brnabićcriticised the portal after an interview with” the Minister of Mining and Energy Mihajlović, while also stating that Nova.rs was “in direct ownership of Dragan Đilas” and that this portal “speaks on the worst terms about President Aleksandar Vučić and his family”. Brnabić also mentioned that that the incident would be discussed by party bodies.

Office of weekly in Šabac attacked

On 12th June 2022, the offices of the Glas Podrinja weekly in Šabac were damaged. The weekly announced that the office windows had been broken by a concrete block and the incident was reported to the police. A similar attack happened two years ago when a window of their official vehicle was also broken, but the attackers have never been found and prosecuted. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia called on the police to investigate.

Political satire show canceled

On 13th June 2022, host Zoran Kesić, known for his satirical critique of the government in Palić, Subotica, had his show canceledKesić informed all ticket buyers about the cancellation via his Facebook profile, indicating that this was an example of a “classical suffocation of freedom of speech”. In his post, he expressed suspicion that the cancellation came from the Subotica City government. Kesić also stated that he was given the explanation that the cancellation was due to “stage renovation”, which was going to be finished at midnight on the day of his show. The day after his show, however, was already reserved for other programmes and there were no openings until the end of June 2022.