Via TV footage and social media posts, BIRN has documented more than 26 cases of police brutality on the streets of Belgrade during clashes with protesters this week.
They include incidents of police violence against civilians, men and women, posing no apparent threat, as well as against journalists.
The material reviewed by BIRN shows that most incidents of police brutality on Tuesday and Wednesday occurred far from the entrance to the parliament, as police chased down protesters following clashes that broke out when protesters tried to storm the assembly.
The authorities deployed teargas and mounted police to disperse the protesters, some of whom lobbed rocks and petrol bombs at the Gendarmerie units securing the parliament.
Members of the Gendarmerie beat people on Terazije, some 800 meters from the parliament where there was no organised protest, only protesters running from police. On the other side of the assembly, police dispersed protesters towards Tasmajdan park, firing teargas. Video and photos show police chasing and beating people all the way to the Faculty of Law and beyond, up to some two kilometres from the parliament itself.
The footage shows that police did not only target those involved in direct clashes but others too who showed no sign of using violence.
Sitting on a park bench
In one of the most shocking cases, police are seen brutally beating three men sitting on a bench in the park near the National Assembly and who were putting up no resistance. One of the protesters tried to stop the assault but more police piled in.
Reporting from the scene, reporters of TV N1 caught on camera a group of people in civilian clothing surrounding a man lying on the ground. One of them puts his foot on the man’s head. A uniformed police officer was present the entire time.
Another video shows a police officer firing a flare from a combat vehicle at a protester from a distance of just three metres after the protester made an offensive gesture towards them. The protester posed no physical threat
Tuesday’s protests in Belgrade and the heavy-handed response of police triggered protests the next day in Novi Sad in the north and Nis in the south, as well as other cities in Serbia.
Footage from Novi Sad, the second biggest city in Serbia, shows police pushing a man from his bike and beating and kicking him on the ground.
Ovako se ponaša razulareni batinaš sa značkom kada iza sebe ima SNS – brutalno šutira decu nogom u glavu!
Zove se Nikola Burmaz i inspektor je u Policijskoj stanici Detelinara u Novom Sadu. A prekovremeno za bratiju.
Odgovaraćete, nećemo stati! pic.twitter.com/zj6ehym4AH
— Marinika Tepić (@MarinikaTepic) July 8, 2020
Beta news agency and Nova.rs web portal reported that four journalists were attacked by police while reporting from the protests on Tuesday and Wednesday, despite identifying themselves as members of the media.
Local media reports say that dozens of people were injured in the two days of protests.
Government: Police faced ‘unbearable’ violence
On Wednesday evening, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said police had acted in self-defence and with restraint after they were pelted with stones and flares.
“They started intervening when the violence became unbearable and when their lives were in danger,” Stefanovic said.
Serbia’s Ombudsman said on Thursday that police in general had not used excessive force except in a few instances.
Kakva je ovo sramota za srpsku policiju! Tuku nedužne momke. Pokazali ste krvožedno lice režima! Sramota za srpsku uniformu! Sramota!
Geplaatst door Balša Božović op Dinsdag 7 juli 2020
Amnesty International’s Balkans researcher, Jelena Sesar, said that the images of Serbian police firing tear gas and stun grenades indiscriminately into the crowd and beating protesters raised serious concerns.
“While the authorities have the responsibility to ensure public order and to respond to individual violent incidents, the disproportionate use of force against entire demonstrations is not justified,” Sesar said.
“Heavy-handed measures of the kind we have seen over the past two days infringe the rights of those protesting peacefully and will only increase tension and provoke hostility, leading to an escalation of the situation.” Amnesty called on authorities to secure the right of people to protest peacefully and without fear of reprisals.
On Thursday, thousands of people gathered in peaceful protest across the country. More protests are expected on Friday, despite a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.