Labour unions face pressure; mounting attacks on journalists and activists

Labour unions face pressure; mounting attacks on journalists and activists
Misdemeanor fines for Fiat workers for setting up road blockades (REUTERS/Zorana Jevtic via Gallo Images).

Association

Since 7th July 2022, activists of the non-profit organisation "Women for Peace" from Leskovac, who have been providing support to women victims of violence in the city for 15 years, have faced threats and cyber attacks. President of the organisation, Ljiljana Nešić, announced that the threats began after they criticised the allocation of city budget funds to convicted abuser Miodrag Stanković for the opening of a new SOS office to combat domestic violence in this city. The organisation reported the threats to the police, with a disclaimer that they do not trust authorities, after failure to get any action in another case.

“All the attacks happened on the streets, in front of our office or on the way home. Threats happen in passing, when we were first threatened, but then everything went to a much higher level, when they started to mention our families. One of the threats against me was that they would know that I have a daughter as well as grandchildren. They are all different people, whom we do not know, and mostly they are younger people”, says Nešić (translated from Bosnian).

In connection with this case, the international organisation Front Line Defenders published the details of these attacks and expressed concern about the fact that activists suffer threats because of their work in the field of protecting women victims of violence.

Death threats at the “Kreni-promeni” campaign

On 3rd July 2022, the "Kreni-promeni" campaign announced via Instagram that it has increasingly been receiving death threats directed both at the campaign itself and the director of this initiative. The announcement stated that the threats were inspired by negative and threatening statements made against them by top public officials, and some of these statements were compiled into a video that was included in the post.

Woman in Black premises attacked

On 12th July 2022, the entrance to the premises of the Women in Black organisation was attacked, a day after a series of activities that this organisation conducted on the occasion of the anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. As reported by the organisation, an unknown person first introduced himself as a postman, and then poured red paint over the front door and staircase. This was the third attack against the organisation since October 2021.

“We believe that behind this attack, which was carried out by an unknown perpetrator, are legitimising state institutions that allow and inflict violence on all those they see as political dissenters."

Labour rights concerns

  • Dalibor Nikolić, a worker and union representative at the Jura factory in Niš, received a warning before his dismissal from the company after speaking out about the working conditions at his place of employment. According to media reports, Nikolić was informed via a written notification that he had "violated work discipline" because he had given "incorrect information" about his employer. This comes after he had publicly spoken out about the malfunctioning air conditioners, which resulted in the factory temperature inside being 30 degrees, resulting in emergency services having to intervene several times to help workers. However, Jura replied that there were indeed problems with air conditioners and that they were fixed.
  • The United Labour Unions of Serbia "Sloga" announced that the trade union representative in the Public Enterprise "Pošta Srbije" (Post of Serbia) Stefan Mitrović has been facing pressure from his employer. It stated that Mitrović was subjected to two external controls by the Zemun Working Unit, which "was not a practice or a usual procedure", suspecting that Mitrović is being set up for dismissal. Mitrović had already been punished with reduced wages, and he has appeared in public several times talking about the unfavourable working conditions at the company.
  • Three labour union leaders from the Republic Geodetic Institute (RGZ) have been dismissed in a non-transparent manner and under unclear circumstances after they publicly spoke out against the incompetent management response to a hacking attack on the state institution on 14th July 2022. The aforementioned unions and their representatives spoke publicly about problems in the work of the cadastre system, sending open letters to the Prime Minister and the President of Serbia. The unions confirmed to media that information regarding their case was circulating in the employees’ "Viber groups", stating that a criminal complaint has been filed against the union leaders, as well as parts of the decision on their suspension, which were never delivered to the union leaders. The Association of Free and Independent Labour Unions condemned the accusations made by the RGZ director, who stated that the three union leaders, including their trustee, "participated in a hacker attack on RGZ".
  • On 3rd July 2022, the United Labour Unions of Serbia "Sloga" announced that the company "Valy d.o.o. Valjevo" had filed a lawsuit against the president of the union demanding a prison sentence of one year after the union made several public statements about the alleged illegal dismissal of excess employees in the company. In October 2021, "Sloga" spoke out about the unclear criteria on the basis of which 150 workers of the Valy company were declared technologically redundant, and later announced that one of the dismissed workers had died after the company "didn't believe" she had health problems and thought "she was acting” when she asked to be relieved from a shift.

Peaceful Assembly

Misdemeanor fines for Fiat workers for setting up road blockades

Three workers of the Fiat company from Kragujevac received misdemeanor fines for staging a blockade on Kraljevo road on 20th July 2022, organised due to the uncertain fate of workers in the car factory after the company began the process of temporarily suspending production. As the representative of the "Nezavisnost" labour union told the media, during the protest he was not asked for his ID by members of the police and he received information from an officer at the police station that “the punishment was ordered by the station commander". He also stated that he was not sure whether he will be punished for the blockade that was organised earlier in the town of Korićani and another organised in Belgrade. The vice-president of the Independent Union of Fiat Plastics stated that he was not asked for his ID at the protest either and that he was not warned by the police that he was committing a misdemeanor, even though the misdemeanor warrant stated that such a warning was given.

Activist targeted prior to GUP protest

On 28th July 2022, stickers showing the image of Novi Sad activist Brajan Brković appeared in the parking lot behind the Police Administration building in Novi Sad, just before the announced protest in that city (see previous update). As reported by the media, stickers with the image of Brković, with Ustasha symbols, appeared at the location where the protest was supposed to start, which was organised in response to a protest against the adoption of the new General Urban Plan of Novi Sad, in which excessive force was used by private security against protesters. Brković has previously been exposed to threats and pressure. For example, in February 2022, he was the target of a campaign by pro-government tabloids. 

Expression

Targeting of activists

  • On 25th June 2022, posters with the image of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists member Veran Matić and a series of derogatory comments directed at him appeared on the streets of Vranje. Matić was in Vranje the day before, when he visited "OK Radio" and the "No comment" cafe and condemned the attacks they were subjected to (see previous update) due to the fight against the illegal construction of a building next to their premises.
  • On 27th June 2022, the Ministry of the Interior announced the initiation of misdemeanor proceedings against Mirko Medenica for insulting police officers during events, as described in his article related to a case of racial profiling at the "Nikola Tesla" Airport in Belgrade. In the text, Medenica pointed out the behaviour of two police officers at border control who spoke, as he stated, “inappropriately to two people of darker skin tone”, and then "separated" them together with several other passengers “also with a darker skin colour”, who stood in line for control. As for the reason for initiating the procedure, the Ministry cited Medenica's "raised voice" and calling "police officers who were on duty racist and other derogatory names" as well as "directing a series of insults against all members of the Ministry".
  • Environmental activists from the village of Dragovo near Rekovac, Kragujevac, announced that they had received a lawsuit warning from a company that conducted geological research in the village. The warning was sent to several residents stating that due to roadblocks and the inability of the company to carry out drilling as part of its research, damages arose for its breach of deadlines and obligations to carry out the research. The company is seeking compensation of 140,000 euros and announced additional claims due to the drop in the value of its shares on the stock market. Miroljub Popović, one of the activists, stated that the warning served to intimidate the locals and to stop the protest. Residents in the municipality of Rekovac have been fighting for several months against the announcement of lithium and boron mining in the municipality, preventing exploration works and wells.

New SLAPP lawsuit against KRIK portal

The Crime and Corruption Research Network portal, and the editor-in-chief Stevan Dojčinović, are facing another Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), this time from the former Secretary of State in the Ministry of the Interior (MUP), Dijana Hrkalović, who is being charged with influence peddling. In the lawsuit it is stated that KRIK injured the "honour and reputation" of Dijana Hrkalović and violated her "presumption of innocence". Hrkalović, is demanding compensation in the amount of 6,000 Euros. The lawsuit refers to several texts published on the portal in early 2022, which Hrkalović claims are untrue, adding that they brought her "in connection with criminal clans" and that KRIK did not contact her for comment regarding these texts.

Attacks on media and journalists

  • On 27th June 2022, local police in Ruma announced that they had arrested a person suspected of damaging the official vehicle of Radio-Television of Vojvodina. According to media, first the licence plates were removed from the RTV vehicle, and then the attacker carved the letter "U" on the vehicle itself (symbol of the Nazi World War 2 Ustasha movement), which at the time was parked in front of the Croatian Cultural and Artistic Society, where the crew was filming a concert.
  • On 28th June 2022, N1 TV announced that their news team was interrupted while reporting on a strike by Vietnamese workers at the Linglong factory in Zrenjanin. After arriving at the building where the workers from Vietnam were housed, the N1 crew was approached by a private security guard who told them to "pack their camera", and after refusing to do so, the same worker said that they should not "film the building".
  • In a Facebook post on 23rd June 2022, Velimir Bulatović, the father of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party MP from Vranjska Banja, Slaviša Bulatović, insulted journalists of the Danas, N1 and InfoVranjske portals. The post comes after Dragana Cvetković from Vranjska Banja publicized her suspicions about the forging of her father’s signature by Slaviša Bulatović, who after this action bought part of public property on which he lives with the Cvetković family, and started the construction of a residential building. On that occasion, Dragana Cvetković held a press conference in front of the yard on which both families reside. Velimir Bulatović accused the three portals of "running a media campaign against him" and called them "auto-chauvinists" and "cattle”.
  • The editor-in-chief of "Drvotehnika" Dragojlo Blagojević received death threats following an article published in the July print edition of the magazine. According to media, the article talked about "forestry power mongers that resell wood at twice the price, and the state tolerating or encouraging all this for a long time". It stated that Blagojević received a call late at night, when he was threatened. The journalist informed the police about this call, saying that he did not feel safe, and the police told him that they would contact him. Earlier in January 2020, Blagojević received threats from the general director of the Public Enterprise "Srbijašume" (“SerbiaForests”) Igor Braunović, also because of an article published in the magazine, and Braunović later denied that he had threatened Blagojević.
  • On 12th July 2022, the Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade announced that it had requested the Commissioner for the Protection of the Independence of Prosecutors to initiate proceedings against the Nova.rs portal and N1 TV because of articles about the Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Special Crime Suppression Department, Željka Nikolaidis. The portals wrote about the prosecutor and questioned her actions in one of the previous cases she had worked on, which involved persons with a criminal background. N1 TV responded to this, stating that the relevant article "was prepared exclusively in the interest of the public", that "the deputy public prosecutor, as a holder of public office, is obliged to suffer a greater degree of criticism" and that "the media have the right but also the obligation to report to the public about persons for whom there is a justified interest of the public, which the acting deputy prosecutor certainly is". N1 stated that highlighting the problem of omissions in the work of the prosecutor's office is in the public interest. Finally, N1 TV evaluated the prosecutor’s announcement as "another pressure on the independence of media".
  • Convicted war criminal and former president of the extreme right-wing Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Šešelj, once again targeted Snežana Čongradin, journalist at "Danas" newspaper, and Milojko Pantić, journalist and editor of "Sportsko politika galaksija". On this occasion, Šešelj published books with an offensive title, containing comments on the texts of Čongradin and Pantić, which spoke about Šešelj's actions. Regarding this case, journalist Čongradin announced that she would not comment on Šešelj's latest targeting.
  • Vladimir Đukanović, a former MP of the Serbian Progressive Party and a member of the High Council of the Judiciary, threatened and insulted journalist Nedim Sejdinović after a text was published in the weekly "Vreme". The editors of "Vreme" announced that Đukanović targeting the journalist "because he did not like his text". The independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) requested urgent reaction of the competent authorities regarding this case and the Coalition for Media Freedom condemned the threats directed at Sejdinović, among other things. The Coalition highlighted the functions that Đukanović performed and is currently performing, especially his position as a member of the High Council of the Judiciary, a body that participates in the process of electing judges.
  • Member of the Serbian Progressive Party and former MP in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Lav Gligorije Pajkić, insulted the editors of the Danas, N1 and Nova.rs portals through his Instagram account. On that occasion, Pajkić shared the invitation of the Danas editorial office with young people applying to journalism school, publishing a picture from the film "Dara from Jasenovac" showing members of the Ustasha movement, and he tagged these media in the post.
  • A journalist and the editor of the Kurir newspaper were verbally attacked after publishing an article on 1st August 2022, about an allegedly illegal nursing home named "Royal", which operated without a licence and where the living conditions for patients and working conditions of the employees were very bad, the "SafeJournalists" network reports.
  • The Kragujevac City Committee of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) made a series of accusations against the "Glas Šumadije" news portal after an article about the organised departure of SNS activists to a commemorative meeting on the occasion of the anniversary of Operation "Storm" was published. In the article, it was stated that the portal received information from "city companies, institutions and administration" that there was "terrible pressure" on employees to go to the anniversary event in Novi Sad. The Serbian Progressive Party reacted to the text, accusing the portal of working according to a "project assignment" with the aim of disparaging the gathering and because of "hatred towards the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić", and that it was "financed with dollars".
  • The Danas portal was exposed to pressure from government officials and officials of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), after the publication of an article about the impossibility of state institutions to find the residence of the President Aleksandar Vučić. Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, and many other members of the Serbian Progressive Party, including tabloids close to the authorities, reacted to this text. Brnabić called Danas a "tycoon's pamphlet” calling on the competent institutions to react due to "violation of the Law on Data Protection", while Minister Vulin called Danas a "tabloid", which threatened the safety of the President and his family by publishing his address. The interlocutors of the Danas portal stated that the information about the president's residence, which was published by Panić and the Danas portal, was already public and that its publication was not subject to the provisions of the Law on Personal Data Protection.
  • The authors of the Dobar, loš, zao show, Nenad Kulačin and Marko Vidojković, received new threats via social networks. In Vidojković's column, which was published on the Danas portal, it was stated that they were sent a message containing derogatory comments about them, with a "threat" that the messages that Kulačin had previously exchanged with that person would be "sent to Vulin", the Minister of Internal Affairs. Kulačin and Vidojković are often the target of attacks because of the critical attitudes towards the authorities expressed in their shows. N1 reported on Vidojković's statement from 12th April 2022, in which he said that he had to leave Serbia due to death threats.