Serbia

Smear campaigns against CSOs, opposition and independent journalists continue

The Odbranimo Sume Fruske Gore association and the Fruskac Association, which have for years been campaigning against the irregularities in the purchase of land in the Fruska Gora National Park by the Galens company, have been sued by the company's owners. Separately, the Pride Info Center (PIC) Belgrade reported that a man tried to vandalise their premises. At a press conference discussing the government's decision to annul legislation related to the lithium exploitation project in Loznica, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ana Brnabic accused donors of financing protests which are aimed at "breaking the spine" of Aleksandar Vucic. Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin accused environmental activists and the organisers of a protest held on 15th February 2022 of being "foreign mercenaries". In a concerning development, • After being warned by the police not to attend protests, three members of the Mitic family from Paracin are facing misdemeanour charges for participating in protests related to environmental rights on 4th December 2021. Smear campaigns against several outlets took place, and some pre-election concerns were noted. Read more

Smear campaigns against CSOs, opposition and independent journalists continue

Mural of convicted war criminal Mladic sparks protests, violations at environmental rights protests

Several organisations have received threats for calling for the removal of a mural of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic and for supporting civic activists Aida Corović and Jelena Jacimovic who threw eggs at the mural in protest. Corović was briefly detained and may face misdemeanour charges of disturbing public order. Relate to this, after the “Mural must fall” protest held in November 2021 in Belgrade, a banner by the organisation Women in Black stating "We will never forget the genocide in Srebrenica" was stolen and publicly burned. Additionally, a planned protest by Youth for Human Rights (YIHR) in front of the Mladic mural was banned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Following continuous pressure from civil society and weeks of demonstrations across Serbia during November and December 2021, President Aleksandar Vučić halted a controversial lithium mining project with British-Australian company Rio Tinto. However, during protests, several activists reported being intimidated and were warned by the police of the “risks” for attending gatherings prior to protests taking place. Read more

Mural of convicted war criminal Mladic sparks protests, violations at environmental rights protests

CSOs face attack; Podcast hosts critical of government face intimidation

On 11th September 2021, a car belonging to the Bird Protection and Research Society of Serbia was damaged.Two weeks later, the group filed a criminal complaint with the Basic Public Prosecutor in Novi Sad following death threats being sent to the Society on the hunters’ portal srbijalov.com. The Society has been facing threats coming from hunters for years due to their field engagement related to illegal hunting. The Women in Black association in Belgrade was subjected to misogynistic graffiti. Separately, local activists from the environmental rights group “Let’s Defend the Baba Mountain, Plana and Lesje” who have staged protests in Paracin, have faced pressure from police. Hosts of the “Dobar, los, zao” political entertainment podcast, Marko Vidojkovic and Nenad Kulacin, have been threatened after an episode of the podcast criticised President Vucic. Read more

CSOs face attack; Podcast hosts critical of government face intimidation

Journalists targeted by organised smear campaigns

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. 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. Several journalists were also targeted during this period. Read more

Journalists targeted by organised smear campaigns

Activist from ‘Let’s Not Drown Belgrade’ attacked, anti-construction protests staged

An activist of the “Let’s Not Drown Belgrade” Initiative was verbally attacked by an unknown man while organising a public conversation with citizens in Belgrade. Several protests were staged, including one against a construction site, where police asked the gathered citizens for their IDs. Protesters report that this may have a chilling effect and deter others from participating. Read more

Activist from ‘Let’s Not Drown Belgrade’ attacked, anti-construction protests staged

Journalists face legal suits, threats and obstruction for their work

The Centre for Judicial Research (CEPRIS) has been under investigation by the financial police, as ordered by the Prosecutor's Office, to determine the regularity of the organisation's operations and finances. This comes almost nine months after the Directorate for Prevention of Money Laundering of the Ministry of Finance asked banks to inspect all transactions for 20 individuals and 37 organisations. Several cases of lawsuits being filed against journalists and activists were reported in this period. The "Millennium Team” construction company filed lawsuits against local portals Info Vranjske and JugPress, and against the initiative “Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own” for causing material damage. The worrying trend of attacks, threats and obstructions on the work of journalists has continued. Read more

Journalists face legal suits, threats and obstruction for their work

Smear campaigns against the media and CSOs continue

Cases of political intimidation and attacks towards civil society organisations (CSOs) and their representatives have been noted during the reporting period and are considered a continuous effort to deter future activism. The associations KRIK and CRTA have been targets of smear campaigns by high-ranking officials of the ruling party and pro-government media. The practice of founding GONGO associations that imitate well-known CSOs in their field of activity by using their visual identity is now also being practised in the media sphere. In early February 2021, the web page of the recognisable “Juzne vesti” was plagiarised with the appearance of a new web page that differs from the original by including the word “info” in the official web page address. The site discredits the genuine media outlet and creates confusion among the public. In addition, a dangerous tabloid campaign has been launched against KRIK, bringing its journalists into contact with an organised criminal group called Belivuk kin, making incorrect claims that Belivuk gave information to KRIK.
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Smear campaigns against the media and CSOs continue

Intensifying attacks and calls for violence against CSOs and journalists by the Serbian government

During this period, smear campaign was launched, simultaneously appearing in all the major government-funded tabloids in Serbia, making tenuous connections between the investigative portal KRIK, a member of the Organised Crime and Corruption Research Network (OCCRP), and an organised criminal group headed by recently-arrested crime boss Veljko Belivuk, who is currently under investigation for several murders. In addition, attacks and smears escalated further when during a regular session of the National Assembly, the chief of the ruling party SNS’s parliamentary group “Aleksandar Vučić - For Our Children” and president of the Administrative Committee, MP Aleksandar Martinović, threatened that anyone who criticised the government would be “beaten in a sack”, thus openly calling for violence. Martinović also accused the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability and the Open Parliament Initiative of attempting to overthrow the government and revealed the exact location of the founder and director of CRTA, her place of residence and the model of car she drives, stating publicly "We know where you live". In addition, journalist continue to face intimidation, which include rape threats and death threats, for their journalistic work. Read more

Intensifying attacks and calls for violence against CSOs and journalists by the Serbian government

President and deputies of the ruling majority in parliament verbally attack journalists

With the formation of the new government and the establishment of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society ceased to exist. A significant part of the competencies in the field of work of the Office will be transferred to the Ministry. The abolition of the Office marks the end of its role to ensure the participation of citizens in the preparation of legal regulations by ministries and local governments. In addition, the entire process was conducted in a non-transparent manner. As reported previously, the phantom portal of “Prismotra” continues to discredit the work of CSOs and individuals working on the protection and promotion of human rights. Journalists continue to face threats and harassment. In the latest cases documented, during a tour of the construction work of a COVID-19 Hospital, the President of Serbia attacked the independence and objectivity of the media. In addition, deputies of the ruling party in Parliament also verbally attacked journalists, branding them as "anti-Serbian". Read more

President and deputies of the ruling majority in parliament verbally attack journalists

Onslaught of attacks against CSOs and journalists continues

Smearing of journalists and CSOs continued during this period. The phantom portal “Prismotra” is a platform which is used to discredit associations and individuals, accusing them of financial embezzlement, working in the interest of foreign services and states, and acting against the state of Serbia. The portal has posted several articles discrediting CSO's media, journalists, politicians and activists, including the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV), the Humanitarian Law Center. It also accused several people who work for CSO's or the media of being "foreign spies in Serbia". The trend of physical and verbal attacks and threats against journalists in Serbia has continued.
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Onslaught of attacks against CSOs and journalists continues