The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the beating of journalist Sasa Mikic and threats of violence against reporters and media workers covering parliamentary elections in Serbia.
On election day on June 21, Mikic, a longtime sports journalist who was on assignment for Dečiji Internet Radio (DIR), was physically attacked while reporting from a polling station in Kikinda, a city in the autonomous province of Vojvodina, according to his employer and media reports.
After presenting a journalistic ID and being admitted at around 4pm, Mikic, who previously worked at public broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), had tried to speak to the president of the polling board about the turnout and other election matters.
According to the journalist, who spoke to IPI via messaging app, as he was leaving the venue he was approached by a group of unidentified individuals who threw something at him and started pushing him out of the building. Outside, a group of three men attacked Mikic from behind. The journalist said two men held him down while a third hit him in the body and face.
After the attack police were called to the scene and Mikic was given medical assistance. He suffered cuts to is lower lip and other minor injuries. An official report was submitted to police.
“We strongly condemn the attack on Sasa Mikic as well as threats of violence against journalists trying to report in the public interest on Serbia’s election”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Authorities should publicly denounce such open and appalling attacks on journalists’ safety and police must conduct a swift and transparent investigation to ensure those responsible for the attack are brought to justice.”
Griffen added that the incident was illustrative of a “wider climate of hostility, violence and attacks on the media in Serbia” that had steadily worsened in previous years.
‘Culmination’ of pressures on journalists
Željko Bodrožić, president of Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (IJAS), said the attack on Mikic was a “drastic culmination of months of intimidation, threats and pressures Serbian journalists faced during the Covid-19 and pre-election campaign.”
He added the IJAS had documented an 80 percent increase in the number of attacks and incidents pressuring journalists against journalists compared to the same period in 2019.
“Such drastic deterioration of media freedoms and levels of safety of journalists, especially in the election period, demonstrates that Serbia’s dedication to values of democracy is only declarative”, he added. “It will remain so until all cases of attacks on journalists are investigated and perpetrators adequately sanctioned.”
The SafeJournalists Network, a regional monitoring body for press freedom, of which IJAS is a member, joined the condemnation and called on the Republic Public Prosecutor in Serbia to act upon violations of journalist’s rights and safety.
The Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) also denounced the attack and urged authorities to act to identify the attackers.
Election reporters threatened with violence
In a pre-election incident on June 18, journalist Miljko Stojanović of the Voice of Zajecar news portal was verbally threatened with violence and prevented from attending the pre-election rally organised by the governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vučić.
According to a statement by his employer, Stojanović was told he could not enter the venue because “SNS said there was no entry”. Other reporters had been allowed in. Stojanović said he pointed out he was a journalist and had every right to attend the event as it was a public gathering.
According to that report, a member of the city council of the city of Zajecar told him was not allowed entry because he would write “nonsense”. The politician then said Stojanović would “get beaten” if he entered.
The comment was reportedly overheard by six plainclothes police officers, who did not react. The incident was reported to Zajecar Police Department, who informed Stojanović the case had been handed over to the prosecutor’s office.
On June 21, journalist Nikola Mitic and photoreporter Matija Gacic from the news portal Južni vesti were also threatened with violence while documenting events outside a polling station, according to UNS.
A member of the public tried to grab the camera out of the photographer’s hands and demanded photos be deleted, then threatened to break his legs. The journalists later filed criminal charges.
Vučić won a landslide victory in the election after many of the main opposition parties boycotted the vote citing concerns over unfair election conditions and an erosion of democratic standards, including media freedom.