18. avg 2022.

“I will distroy Vranje… Those who are afraid have every reason to be afraid“

 The attack on OK Radio (photo: Insajder TV /OK Radio security cameras)

Before returning to Belgrade, from the trial for the attack on OK Radio, I took part in a press conference of more than 600 noble women of Vranje, gathered in the Women’s Solidarity Front. Together with other local partners and the Serbian Philanthropic Forum, the Vranje Women’s Front organizes the action „Sevap je merak“ („Doing good makes us feel better“) through which food has been collected for the oldest and socially vulnerable citizens. This is one of the campaigns around which the women of Vranje successfully and wholeheartedly gather.

However, as I drive to Belgrade, I think about Svetlana Ivanov from OK Radio, who, along with the owner Olivera Vladković, bravely testified about threats and violence against OK Radio and No Comment Caffe, who experienced new threats in court… And who now remains alone in Vranje, with all her fears and problems, concern for her family’s life and fear for her existence. Women as a target again, and I believe that not only women will stand in solidarity, but all of us together, with Svetlana and Olivera, other employees at OK Radio and No Comment Cafe and all freelance journalists in Vranje.

If trials were to be recorded, then the judge could stop the trial in disputed situations until she reviewed the footage and determined what happened. If it had been possible at yesterday’s trial in Vranje, the judge could have seen and heard the accused Dejan Nikolić Kantar shouting on the video that he will destroy Vranje if he remains in custody, and he repeated this several times in different aggressive versions. He also repeatedly exclaimed that „those who are afraid should be afraid“, referring to the victims in this case, Olivera Vladković and Svetlana Ivanov, who, by the way, are under a certain degree of police protection precisely because of the assessment of the Minsitry of Interior. This threat is more than clear: „The fact that you stated in court that you are afraid, you are right, you have reason to be afraid, and I won’t be stopped…“ It could also be determined in what context he uttered the following sentence: „In 1941, in Jasenovac, it was dealt with rather simply, „with a gun to the forehead“, adding that he was not afraid of anyone… 

If it was possible to watch the video, it would be possible to determine the threat uttered by Dejan Nikolić, during the testimony of the injured party Svetlana, when she answered the judge’s question if she was afraid, while she was talking about the fear for herself, her old mother in a wheelchair and brother with disability. And when she said quietly, in a trembling voice through tears: „He is threatening me even now.“ I expected the competent prosecutor to demand more detailed attention, enter the record and demand the initiation of a new lawsuit for threats…

I don’t sleep well

When asked by the judge if she is afraid of anything, Svetlana Ivanov answers: „I am afraid that some infuriated people will harm me and my family.“ Especially when I read the comments on the portals, I also fear for my existence, my own and my family’s“. When asked if she walks peacefully on the street, Svetlana answers „no“ and adds that she doesn’t sleep peacefully, and neither does her family. It could be seen that the defendant tries to stage health problems, which is why he called the emergency, which in turn helped him to meet his family, and to try to stay in the hospital in Vranje…

The main hearing in the Basic Court in Vranje began with a rally of around 300 citizens, mostly Roma, uniformed in T-shirts with the appeal „Vučić, help us, we seek justice“ and several banners „Justice for Kantar“ written along with the image of the President of Serbia. According to the information I received, the rally did not acquire a permit due to late registration. Despite this, the police did not prevent the holding of this gathering, under the very window of the courtroom where the trial was taking place, which was also disrupted due to the frequent chanting of Kantar’s supporters.

Such a precedent represents the legitimization of pressure on the court, and it can become a dangerous practice. Not to mention the abuse of members of the Roma community, who, according to the information I received, were paid 10 to 20 euros, and arrived on two buses from Surdulica and some other localities. 

Defendant Nikolić was brought from the Central Prison in Belgrade, but he was brought at the back entrance, so contact with the gathered citizens was avoided. While entering the hall where the trial was held, Nikolić said to one of his people: „If Veran Matić enters, let everyone who came enter the hall.“ Although he came dressed inappropriately, in short pants, to demonstrate that he had a prosthetic leg, which he lost due to the detonation of explosives planted under his car a few years ago, he was allowed to attend. Quarrelsome and impulsive in nature, he led judge Jelena Dimitrijević to repeat several times that she would not tolerate disruption of the main trial, and that those who interfere will be punished.

In the audience, there were about fifteen journalists and the same number of observers from the families of the accused and friends and associates. The trial was held for the events that took place on June 1, 2022.

Briefly, the indictment describes the incident: Around 5:00 p.m., on this day, the accused Bojan Tanasković enters the premises of No comment Cafe, which operates under the auspices of OK Radio, carrying a spray can on his back, sprays white paint on the furniture, floor, walls and other items in this facility, which was recorded by security cameras. After he leaves, the defendant Slaviša Kocić enters the cafe, carrying a mobile phone and inviting the present employees of the radio and the cafe to come closer in order to hear „what Dejan has to tell them“. Then they hear on the speakerphone: „Dejan speaking, this is because of the lawsuit, this is just the beginning, the cafe won’t work, this is for Belgrade…“

The mentioned lawsuits are related to the illegally built building that used to wall off part of OK Radio, and which must be demolished according to the decision of the Construction Inspection of the city of Vranje, with the headquarters in Belgrade, because the owner reported the threats she received from Dejan Nikolić in the capital. 

While the accused „painter“ and „telephone carrier“ were obviously fantasizing about explaining what they had done, the accused Dejan Nikolić continued with threats with every gesture, even though he denied the crime committed, directly repeating the criminal act and adding threats that he will destroy the city…

Bojan Tanasković, previously convicted for playing games of chance, as he says, explaining the reasons why he destroyed the property of the cafe with paint, said that he was in that cafe five or six years ago and saw that they had some bugs, and then he decided exterminate them. So, he went home to the basement, took a spray can thinking it contained total insect killer, went into the coffee shop and sprayed it… He didn’t notice the white paint coming out of the sprayer. Later, he made diverse variants of the statement. He admitted the crime, but he also takes as an extenuating circumstance that he was not in his right mind: „It can happen to anyone, this guy killed 11 in Montenegro, it can happen to anyone…“ He apologized to the owner of the cafe No Comment. 

The defendant Slaviša Kocić said that he went to the grocery store that day. He dreamed of his late wife who was eating cherries and strawberries. On the way to the store, a boy whom he saw for the first time approached him, handed him the phone and told him to take the phone to the waiters. That he first entered the Demode cafe, but the waiters did not want to take the phone there, so he entered the No Comment Cafe, he heard something on the speakerphone but did not understand. And they didn’t want to take the phone, he got scared and went outside and left the phone on the planter and went to the store.

Dejan Nikolić Kantar confirms that he is the owner of the Coloseum Game betting shop near the cafe No Comment: „I had no disagreement with Olivera, she argued with me, I don’t attack women, I’m a gentleman.“ However, he did have misunderstandings due to the construction works (on the illegal building where OK Radio was built), but she attacked him the first time when her sister came, and the second time when Veran Matić came and when they threatened him that they had ties to the prosecution and the rest, there is a recording from the Moravče tavern: „She wanted to racketeer me… I can’t remember if I came to the construction site, when my dad ordered me to go to the construction site, I did go… otherwise my dad orders me around“.

„I have to say that this trial is a crime, it’s not normal for me to be in Belgrade (Central Prison)… I don’t talk to women, I’m a knight, I don’t attack women… And that Veran Matić, who said that I built a wall.“ I didn’t wall up that space of hers because that space doesn’t exist… That OK Radio doesn’t exist either… I proposed to buy it, to help, because she doesn’t have a husband, not taking it away from her…“

He addresses the judge with „you know“ to which she warns him, which he justifies with „excuse me madam, I’m a man from the street, lacking good manners…“

A threat that is not a threat

One of the SMS threats addressed to Olivera Vladković, for which the prosecution judged that there were no grounds for initiating proceedings reads: 

„Mrs. Olivera, I know you are not a quarrelsome person… I know that you never open those three windows, I know that we do not bother you at all, you go and sign the consent, you do not need to get into big problems..!“ 

Judge Jelena Dimitrijević conducted the trial efficiently, with authority and knowledge of the matter, preventing all possible obstructions. The hearing of witnesses in the continuation of the trial is scheduled for September 30.

I would like it if the prosecutors in our country were much more involved in the main trial, more engaged, if they were fully at the service and protection of the victims during the process, who in this case, as well as in the case of the trial for the burning of the house of Milan Jovanović and Jela Deljanin, survived secondary victimization during process, with initiatives towards the judge to determine and emphasize the stated threats.

By the way, the mechanism of contact points created within the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, which connects all prosecution offices, all police departments and representatives of the media, worked very well in this case – the prosecution and the Police Directorate in Vranje did their part very efficiently, including the custody of the accused, and prepared the case for trial within a very reasonable time frame. 

Facts that further clarify the case – Since September 2021, Dejan Nikolić has been constructing an illegal building with which he walls up the window of the premises owned by OK Radio. The air conditioners remain bricked up and now it is impossible to work in the radio, the equipment is damaged, but that is the least of the problems.

Since the building was built without a single permit from the competent institutions, the building inspectorate stopped the work, and eventually made a decision to demolish the illegal building, but this has not happened yet because until now no construction company has been allowed to undertake the work. 

First, in March, the windows at No Comment Caffe are smashed, then threats are made by phone or via SMS, so that on June 1, the threat turned into violent behavior, as defined by the indictment.

Due to the fact that citizens avoid this place of attack out of fear, the work of the cafe was suspended on August 1. The radio was left without two employees who could not continue working under pressure. There is a direct threat to the survival of OK Radio.

During the period of increased threats and attacks on radio and cafes, Dejan Nikolić is serving a prison sentence for organizing illegal gambling, but the prison sentence is carried out in house arrest, with permission to go to work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and permission to walk from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. So, he is under house arrest, but he can walk practically the whole day, and so, while serving his sentence, he goes to the owner of the cafe with a new threat – which is unprecedented in the really wide range of threats to journalists in this area.

Despite all this, Nikolić’s defense is now demanding that the accused be released from custody, „because he will be serving his prison sentence anyway, but in his own home.“ When the judge rejects that proposal, he launches a barrage of new threats to the victims, the women he has already threatened, and the city of Vranje, which he will destroy: „I will destroy the whole city, I will break everything, judge, you are bullying me… and those who are afraid should be afraid…” 

I passed through the crowd several times and only once was heard from someone in the crowd: „Screw you, Matić!“. I want to use this opportunity to deny some media reports – I am not the president of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, as well as of the other Working Group for the Protection and Safety of Journalists, but an ordinary member of both bodies… But I will always do my best to protect my colleagues from any kind of threat and danger.

It is clear that it is a show, that the gathered people have been abused and manipulated to the greatest extent, with a lot of social problems, so they are easy to bring with minimal compensation.

The security services must have known that T-shirts with the image of the president would be printed for all participants in the rally, and that his image would be misused. This caused damage to the institution of the president and Aleksandar Vučić himself by misleading the participants of the rally and the media that accompanied the trial and the citizens of Vranje themselves that the highest government institutions support the convicted defendant Dejan Nikolić. I believe that there was an opportunity for the local SNS leadership to intervene in order to prevent the abuse of the institution and the name of the president.

It is clear that this is not a true image of Vranje, but we could not see or hear the real Vranje in the past few months… Even though they themselves are threatened by this kind of criminal occupation. It is extremely important that we all participate together, from the national level, in establishing justice and the rule of law, but we will not be able to do that without the strong desire of the citizens of Vranje.

That is why we should all work together to reduce poverty, exposure to manipulation, to preserve normal channels of communication, media and journalists who are difficult to intimidate. Let’s all stand together to protect Svetlana, who has become a kind of symbol of resistance to thugs who usurped the freedom of the media, by attacking property and income, making direct threats to people, but also by creating a general atmosphere of fear. I am sure that judges, prosecutors, police officers, city authorities, journalists, media owners… all free-thinking citizens are also worried about themselves and their families. 

Therefore, by defending Svetlana and Olivera, we are defending Vranje and the right to a free life.

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