Serbia

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

Harassment and intimidation of journalists continue unabated

The Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development- CEKOR" is a target of a smear campaign on the phantom portal "Prismotra.net". The text accuses the association and its activists of being informers of foreign services, tasked to work against the interests of Chinese investments in Serbia. The text labels CEKOR as “the economic killers of Serbia”. In addition, during the reporting period journalist faced several verbal threats and insults, including from President Aleksandar Vučić and other ministerial officials. There is a noticeable trend of an increasing number of threats towards journalists. In just one week during August 2020 as many as five cases of attacks on journalists were recorded.
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Harassment and intimidation of journalists continue unabated

CSOs and journalists probed for links to money laundering and terrorism

In a concerning development, the Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering at the Ministry of Finance has compiled a list of organisations and individuals and has asked banks to inspect all their transactions in the last year. In this way, the Administration activated the mechanism provided by law in order to investigate these organisations’ possible participation in "money laundering" or terrorist financing. The list includes 20 individuals and 37 organisations or associations who are known for doing work which is critical of the current regime. More than 270 organisations and individuals in a joint statement demanded that the Ministry and the Administration without delay present to the public the grounds on which they have started such investigations, emphasising that such grounds are an attempt at political abuse and point to the further collapse of democracy in Serbia.
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CSOs and journalists probed for links to money laundering and terrorism

Activists, journalists face smear campaigns, harassment and censorship during COVID-19

Restrictions on the movement of citizens have greatly hindered the normal functioning of CSOs engaged in activities of general interest, especially the ones which provide citizens with certain services that can help them during the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, CSOs were not eligible for permits which allow for movement during curfew hours. The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) has been the constant target of individual smear campaigns for many years. The most recent attacks, from GONGO association National Avant-Garde, aim to discredit the BCSP’s work through public statements, announcements and videos. The introduction of the state of emergency has raised concerns of censorship. For example, the government adopted a conclusion authorising only Crisis Staff to inform the public about the COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, it adopted a measure that prevents journalists from attending Crisis Staff press conferences. In addition, journalists were harassed, detained for their reporting or subject to smear campaigns during the reporting period.
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Activists, journalists face smear campaigns, harassment and censorship during COVID-19

Excessive police force used against citizens, journalists during anti-government COVID-19 protests

Following the announcement of the re-introduction of a curfew due to the worsening COVID-19 epidemiological situation announced by President Aleksandar Vučić, citizens spontaneously gathered in front of the National Assembly building on 7th July 2020 in Belgrade to express dissatisfaction with the new ban. Protests, which continued over a number of days around the country, saw police using excessive force, through the use of batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, cavalry and police dogs against protesters. Several cases police using excessive violence against protesters were documented on the ground. Journalists who covered the protests also faced physical attacks from the police despite identifying themselves as from the media. Despite many cases of excessive force being documented, the government has stated that such force, like the use of tear gas, was neccessary. Read more

Excessive police force used against citizens, journalists during anti-government COVID-19 protests

Attempts to ban CSOs; activists and journalists come under attack

The Balternativa movement launched a petition to ban NGOs in 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”. 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. Activists have also faced attacks and threats during the reporting period. The Civic Front announced that an activist of the United Movement of Free Tenants from Nis, Jana Krstić, was verbally attacked 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’. Similarly, after an apperance on N1 Television, sociologist and researcher of the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI), Zoran Gavrilović, was the target of threats and insults on Twitter. Journalists also faced physical and verbal attacks during the reporting period. Read more

Attempts to ban CSOs; activists and journalists come under attack

Media outlets face pressure as state innovates to silence criticism

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the work of independent media in Serbia can face discrimination and threats from the government. A recent example is the "Kragujevacke" newspaper, the only printed media in Kragujevac, whose editor-in-chief recently spoke out about the two-fold discrimination that the outlet faces. Firstly, high officials avoid giving publication's reporters statements, which hampers their ability to report on critical issues and secondly, they are unable to access funding from the city budget, which threatens their financial sustainability. Read more

Media outlets face pressure as state innovates to silence criticism