13. jun 2024.

Journalists harassed, obstructed, attacked in Serbia’s election period

Serbian authorities should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into recent attacks against journalists covering elections, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.

On June 9, Serbia’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won a vote for Belgrade city council and in partial local elections nationwide, which faced claims of voting irregularities and were punctuated with clashes between supporters of populist President Aleksandar Vučis and the opposition, according to media reports.

On June 2, around noon in Serbia’s north Novi Sad city, a man approached Uglješa Bokić, a journalist for the daily newspaper Danas, punched him in the chest and attempted to snatch his phone before fleeing, according to media reports, a video his employer published, and the journalist who spoke with CPJ via email.

“Serbian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into recent attacks on journalists covering elections, hold the perpetrators to account, and ensure that members of the press can cover issues of public interest without fear of physical attacks and reprisal,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “The environment for journalism in Serbia is increasingly hostile, and authorities must take effective actions to protect journalists.”

Bokić, who was filming in the Novi Sad Fair area where skirmishes broke out between police and opposition supporters, told CPJ that he was clearly identified as a journalist with a press ID around his neck and reported receiving bruises, hematomas, and a sternum contusion in the attack, requiring hospital treatment.

Bokić told CPJ that he recognized his attacker as a former police officer and supporter of SNS, which “views my media outlet as hostile,” he said. Serbian media reported that the man was Vladimir Kezmić, a former police officer. Bokić, also a former police officer, told CPJ that they do not know each other. Bokić said he reported the attack and gave a statement to the Novi Sad police, and he has not received further updates as of June 11.

On June 2, in the Zemun Polje neighborhood of Belgrade, a group  of SNS supporters tried to take equipment belonging to Portal Mašina news site journalist Marko Miletić as he filmed alleged voting irregularities outside the ruling party’s local headquarters, according to Cenzolovka, a news website that covers media and press freedom, a video his employer published, and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via email.

According to these reports, Miletić was alerted by opposition supporters about alleged election malpractice in the district. While he was photographing documents provided by the opposition outside the headquarters, several individuals emerged from the building, approached him and the opposition activists. A woman with the SNS supporters attempted to snatch his mobile phone while he was filming, and together with two men, she chased him away.

Miletić told CPJ that he did not report the attack to the police because he does not trust the “institutions of the justice system” and he fears for his safety after the attack.

In a CPJ report published in May, journalists critical of President Vučić and his policies said they sometimes felt targeted in orchestrated campaigns by ruling party supporters, politicians, public officials, and pro-government media.

In a statement, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia condemned the attacks against journalists and said on June 3 that the election campaign period and the election day itself “were marked by campaigns to slander journalists, targeting and interfering with their work, and even physical attacks by ruling officials and activists of their party.”

CPJ emailed the press department of the Serbian Progressive Party and the prosecutor’s office in Novi Sad but received no reply. CPJ was unable to find contact details for Kezmić.

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