Serbia's journalists fear the worst

by ECPMF staff

Several journalists were attacked in protests against nationalist politician Aleksandar Vučić during his inauguration as the new President of Serbia on Wednesday.

Different NGOs report that protesters and journalists from outlets such as Insajder Production, Vice, Radio Belgrade, and the daily newspaper Danas were insulted and intimidated. The attacks came from security personel as well as Vučić supporters while Belgrade police were just looking on for most of the time.

Radomir Ličina, senior editor of Danas and acting president of the SEEMO board, told the ECPMF:

Our journalist was prevented with brutal force from doing her basic job." 

Reporter Lidija Valter was verbally attacked and threatened by members of a "group of men in civilian clothes (black T-shirts)" after she talked to a protester, according to Ličina, who added: "One of them tried to take her cell phone. When she resisted, the other huge guy grabbed her from the back and literally carried her away from the scene. She was 'released' in the nearby park, where a policeman in civilian clothes interfered."

The attackers were "presumably members of the 'security' of the organizers of the meeting, the ruling SNS party", Ličina says.

Serbia 900X600 Protests against the presidential inauguration turned into a violent scene Wednesday, 31 May, in Serbia. (Public domain photo)

A "worrying" scenario

"Party supporters hurling verbal abuses at reporters is old news," Pistaljka editor-in-chief and ECPMF member Vladimir Radomirović told the ECPMF. "But it's worrying when a journalist is being whisked away from an event while police officers look the other way. [The] Journalists' Association of Serbia (UNS) has called upon the prosecutors and police to identify the culprits of violence and punish them accordingly, and we'll keep a close eye on the investigation."

When it turned out that several reporters had been attacked or threatened, the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs promised an investigation. However, the ministry strongly denied having heard about any attacks on journalists.

On Thursday, new President Vučić apologized for the "incidents", also claiming that he "didn’t hear of any journalist being attacked", according to an article on the Balkan Insight platform. The incidents were condemned by Serbian journalists associations and opposition parties across the board. 

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) quotes Predrag Blagojević, head of the Online Media Association, as saying:

It is very important for people to understand that attacks on journalists are not attacks on one person or the media but on all citizens. Because their rights to be informed are suspended."

And Ličina concludes his analysis with a chilling scenario:

"What concerns us was the fact that Lidija and [the] other reporter of 'Danas' (also female) yesterday have been 'discretely' addressed by several plainclothes policemen, who made 'friendly' warnings that they knew not only their names but everything else, and that practically nobody can protect them, including official police in uniform. That brings back dark memories from the Milosevic era, or something worse."