Today all journalists are safe
“The period from 2002 to 2008 was marked by assassinations of journalists in Serbia, but today all journalists are safe. Anyone who threatens a journalist is automatically and expediently brought to justice. These people are arrested, processed and brought before prosecutors’ offices and courts. Every threat, any violence, each strike. We are making the prescribed penalties more severe.”
Threats against journalists, individuals or editorial teams have become rather frequent over the past few months. According to the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia, since the beginning of this year 12 threats have been recorded compared to 23 during the entire previous year.
Those who threaten (sometimes even by death) are usually using the Internet, leaving comments on certain texts, they are sending messages to journalists’ Facebook inbox, direct messages to mobile phones or even letters such as the one addressed to N1 editorial team in February.
Before the series of threats to certain journalists, a text appeared recently on Istraga.rs website, where the authors (unknown and unsigned, while the website even has no impressum) allegedly exposed the intentions of certain journalists or editorial teams and their sources of financing.
Similar model is applied by Facebook page Srbija naša zemlja which tags journalists as “extremists”, “Serb haters” and accuses them of demolishing the constitutional order, whereas it also puts the opposition politicians into a negative context.
The impression of NUNS representatives is that the very atmosphere in the society stimulates pressures on and threats against journalists. As they say, there is also a vast number of pressures coming from high state officials who tag certain journalists.
Due to the frequent threats addressed against the abovementioned N1 station, the international and European Federation of Journalists have invited the representatives of authorities to stop tagging the journalists. Freedom House research chief for Europe and Euro-Asia, Zeljka Caki said that “Serbian politicians should refrain from calling journalists traitors and foreign mercenaries” and that “the government has a duty to protect freedom of media and not to stimulate anger and hatred against journalists who are doing their job”.
Despite all of the stated, Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic said that “the period from 2002 to 2008 was marked by assassinations of journalists in Serbia, but today all journalists are safe”.
“Anyone who threatens a journalist is automatically and expediently brought to justice. These people are arrested, processed and brought before prosecutors’ offices and courts. Every threat, any violence, each strike. We are making the prescribed penalties more severe”, Stefanovic said at the opening of “Istok” police station in the city premises previously used by Nis TV station, N1 reports.
Data from the database of attacks against journalists kept by the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia which contains all reported cases deny Minister Stefanovic, as one can easily establish from the database that not all threats and attacks have been processed, as he had claimed.
This is why Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic’s statement was evaluated as “false”.
If we check sentence by sentence, each sentence in Stefanovic’s statement can be questioned.
He said that “the period from 2002 to 2008 was marked by assassinations of journalists in Serbia”. However, no case of journalist assassination in Serbia is registered in that period.
All registered assassinations occurred before 2002 – owner and journalist of “Dnevni telegraf” and “Evropljanin” magazines, Slavko Curuvija was assassinated in 1999; the assassination of “Vecernje novosti” correspondent from Jagodina, Milan Pantic happened in 2001, whereas the still unclarified death of “Duga” journalist, Radislava Dada Vujasinovic, also suspected of being murdered, occurred in 1994.
In the period mentioned by the Minister, “only” one of the most dangerous attacks against journalists was registered, but not murder. This is the case of throwing a bomb at the window of Dejan Anastastijevic, journalist of “Vreme” weekly, at a moment when he and his spouse were in the apartment. This happened in 2007 and the case has not been resolved yet.
Another similar attempt occurred in December last year, when two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the garage of journalist of Žiginfo.rs portal from Grocka, Milan Jovanovic. His entire house was burnt down.
Former President of Grocka municipality has been suspected of issuing the order for burning down Jovanovic’s house. The trial for this act was scheduled for Tuesday, 9 April, but it was delayed until 24 May because Simonovic and his attorney did not appear at the trial, website Cenzolovka reports.
In addition to Simonovic, the other accused for this criminal offence are to appear before the court in Belgrade. Bojana Cvetkovic Sijacki, who was directly involved in house burning, was six months house arrest and a fine of RSD 50,000, because she settled with the Prosecutor’s office and acknowledged the guilt.
Although the procedure was instituted against the suspects and the accused, journalist Jovanovic did not feel safe so he requested and was granted police escort. He is now escorted 24 hours/day by two plainclothes policemen.
He said for Istinomer that he felt safe now, however he believed that his colleagues from the same editorial team became “free targets” because they are not escorted. He was also worried about his family.
“I would be sick not to sense fear. Family is family and he (Simonovic) will probably try, via family, to blackmail, but let’s not speak in advance, we shall see what happens” Jovanovic said for Istinomer.
In this case, at least the perpetrators and suspects have been detected, whereas even one year and nine months later it is still unknown who broke into the apartment of Dragana Peco, journalist of Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK). Since July last year, when the police made a report stating there were no suspects, there has been no progress, Krik reports.
Consequently, the question also remains as to what arguments the minister of police has for stating that “all journalists in Serbia are safe” if, for instance, the person(s) who broke into the apartment of journalist Peco are still at liberty.
This and other questions relating to the Minister’s statement remain unanswered by the Ministry of Interior.
Stefanovic also said that every person threatening journalists and attacking them “will be expediently brought to justice”. Independent Journalist Association of Serbia responds that their previous practice shows that “justice is not that expedient, and in some cases it is not even reached”.
“Regarding the previous few years, there is still a large number of unresolved cases which are still pending before the prosecutors’ offices and where perpetrators were not identified. In the past couple of months, there have been cases where police and prosecutors acted promptly, but this is certainly not enough to improve the situation, particularly not enough to say that every threat, every violence and strike are processed”, says for Istinomer Marija Vukasovic, lawyer from the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia.
Presented in figures, out of 31 cases of assaults and pressures against journalists that occurred last year, four have been resolved by some sort of penalty, 16 are still pending before the prosecution and police, and misdemeanour procedure has been instituted in one case, NUNS data show.
“In five cases it was established there were no elements of criminal offence for ex officio prosecution and two cases are in judicial proceedings. Two cases of threats have not been reported and we have no information regarding one case”, Vukasovic says.
In year 2017, the total number of registered assaults and pressures against journalists was the same as in 2018 – 31. Out of that number, 13 cases are still pending before the prosecution office (in one case the application of opportunity principle is in course).
“In nine cases it was established that there were no elements for prosecution i.e. there were no elements of criminal offence for ex officio prosecution. Six cases have been resolved – three cases by sentence, two cases by application of opportunity principle and in one case another state assumed responsibility for criminal prosecution. In two cases the procedure is ongoing and in one case the court rejected the criminal charges” NUNS lawyer explains.
With regard to stricter penalty provisions, which was also announced by the Minister, Marija Vukasovic commented that NUNS representatives were not aware of any ongoing amendment of criminal legislation.
“If it is ongoing, it would be advisable to involve relevant journalist and media associations, considering that we participate in the work of the Permanent Working Group on Journalists’ Safety and there is also a Sub-group for analysing the Criminal Code, where an analysis has been prepared regarding criminal offences that may be perpetrated at the detriment of journalists. Together with legal experts and lawyers, NUNS has prepared the proposals for amendments of criminal provisions that would improve the status of journalists with regard to their right to safe and undisturbed work”, she recalled.