25. maj 2023.

Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists: Data on assaults against journalists from January to March 2023

The Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists (PWG), comprising representatives of six journalistic and media associations (UNS, NUNS, NDNV, AM, ANEM, and AOM), the prosecutor’s office and the police, had a regular quarterly meeting on March 24. On that occasion, current cases of threats and assaults against journalists were discussed, information was exchanged about certain older cases, as well as examples of good practice and challenges faced by the Group. The OSCE Mission to Serbia has been participating in the work of the PWG since its establishment in January 2017.

Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists (photo: PWG)

Data on registered assaults against journalists from January 1 to March 31, 2023

The Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office delivered a report to the PWG, with detailed information on the steps taken by the police and the prosecutor’s office so far in all individual cases of assaults against journalists that were reported to the prosecutor’s office in the first three months of this year.

From January to March 2023, journalists reported 14 cases of threats and assaults to the prosecutor’s office, which is two reports less than in the same period in 2022. Judging by the first quarter of this year, there are also slightly less reports than there were on average during each quarter of 2022 and 2021, when more than 20 cases of various types of safety threats against journalists were reported on a monthly basis. Thus, 83 cases were opened in 2022, and 87 in 2021.

The largest number of cases in which the prosecution, during 2023, established elements of a criminal act, constituted endangerment of safety via online threats referred to in Article 138 of the Criminal Code.

Criminal charges were dismissed in three out of 14 reported cases, while in one case it was assessed that there were no grounds to initiate criminal proceedings. The Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation in the remaining 10 cases – in three the evidence gathering is ongoing, while in seven cases a request was submitted to the police to collect the necessary information.

One of the two criminal charges by Marko Dragoslavić from Fonet was dismissed because the injured party stated to the prosecution that no one violated his safety or addressed threats against him. The endangering safety case of Mirko Nikić, the correspondent of Television N1 from Kragujevac was dismissed as well.

The prosecutor’s office also decided to dismiss the charges for endangering safety of Nenad Kulačin, co-author of the “Dobar, Loš, Zao” podcast, but accepted the charges of the other co-author of this podcast, Marko Vidojković. In the latter case, the prosecutor’s office  initiated the process of gathering information in order to establish whether and what criminal act was committed.

After reporting damage to the vehicle of the husband of Ljiljana Stojanović, the Editor in Chief of Jug Press from Leskovac, normally used for the needs of this newsroom, the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Niš decided that there are no grounds to initiate criminal proceedings.

The evidence gathering procedure is underway, after the threats and assaults against the previously mentioned journalist of the Fonet agency, Marko Dragoslavić,. The suspect P. R. was issued a restraining order by the First Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office, because he verbally threatened Dragoslavić two days before the assault, and then, despite the fact that he showed a journalist ID, tried to prevent him from recording the events in front of the St. Sava Temple in Vračar.

Due to the threats addressed to the Editor of the Žig info portal, Željko Matorčević, outside the courtroom after the trial to the former Head of the Belgrade municipality Grocka Dragoljub Simonović, and three other defendants for setting fire to the house of journalist Milan Jovanović, a restraining order was issued to M.M. According to Matorčević’s testimony, the suspect insulted and threatened with the words “come outside, you are going down”. The media outlets reported that Simonović also took part in this incident. The evidence gathering procedure is underway.

Proceedings are pending due to two reports by Srđan Nonić, Editor of the Niška initiative portal. Due to the threats sent to him via Facebook, the case was transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office for High-Tech Crime and a request for gathering information was raised. Further, the evidence gathering proceedings are ongoing due to the criminal charges filed by Nonić against N. P., an employee of the City Administration in Niš for chasing him down the street and threatening him.

The Prosecutor’s Office for High-Tech Crime interviewed Nova S journalist Pero Jovović, and initiated proceedings after he received a message via Twitter: “A gun should be put to your forehead and a bullet should be fired with clear conscience.” The same procedure was initiated by the prosecution after discussions with Danas journalists Nina Čolić and Ivana Šundić Mihailović, Kurir journalist Andrej Mlakar, and KRIK Editor Stevan Dojčinović.

On the other hand, the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS) recorded 37 assaults against journalists so far in 2023, namely three physical assaults, eight verbal threats and 26 pressures. Pressure implies cases of assaults against journalists that are not criminal acts, in which, in the opinion of the journalists, there has been a certain interference with regards to the work they perform.

In addition, in the same period UNS recorded 34 cases of endangering the safety of journalists and other media workers. Out of these, there were 10 threats, 11 pressures, seven cases of preventing journalists to work, two physical attacks, two cases of intimidation, one violation of privacy and one attack on property.

 (photo: Miroslav Janković)

PWG visit to Niš and meeting with local journalists and contact points in the police and prosecutor’s office

The PWG is committed to developing a system for reporting assaults against journalists and improving the speed of response by the prosecution and the police, which in recent years has resulted in the Binding Instructions of the Republic Public Prosecutor, providing for the urgency of action for all prosecutors. Since last year, the PWG has been working intensively on improving coordination in cases of endangering the safety of journalists locally.

This process was established in June last year at the PWG meeting in Vranje, and it rendered certain results in the case of threats and destruction of OK Radio’s property. However, the issue of enforcing the building inspection’s decision on the removal of the illegal facility that still blocks OK Radio remains beyond the reach of PWG.

A new meeting was held on April 05, this time in Niš, where the PWG, acting as a link between the threatened journalists and the local police and prosecutor’s office, continued to work on building mutual trust, but also demonstrate solidarity within the journalistic profession.

It was concluded in Niš that constant communication between the prosecution, police and journalistic associations contributed to the initiation of court proceedings that led to effective verdicts in the OK radio case, but also that there are still pending cases that must be mutually acted upon. A proposal was also made to organize meetings of local journalists and institutions on quarterly basis, where information on current cases will be exchanged, following the example of the PWG.

The members of the PWG learnt in Niš how the former journalist of Južne vesti, Aleksandar Stankov, was persecuted and threatened by S. S., who was therefore sentenced to six months in prison and a one-year restraining order in January 2023.

The N1 correspondent from Niš, Milan Stojanović, shared his experience after reporting two assaults against him – the prosecutor dismissed both cases, but the Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade returned the case for repeated proceedings. Olivera Mladenović from the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Niš, who is the “contact point” for reporting assaults against journalists in the system established within the PWG, reported that evidence gathering is underway in the case of the assault against Stojanović, after which the prosecutor’s office will decide on further actions.

Srđan Nonić from Niška inicijativa portal informed the participants about several cases of threats he faced, alike his colleague Ivan Živković. Nonić recounted how he had been assaulted and stated that he was interrogated by the prosecutor’s office only after two months. Prosecutor Olivera Mladenović informed that the interrogation of the witness is scheduled after the interrogation of the suspect and the interrogation of the victim, which will be followed by a decision.

The Prosecutor’s Office in Niš also initiated a case due to the threats that Nonić received via Facebook, which was forwarded to the competent Prosecutor’s Office for High-Tech Crime. Representatives of the police confirmed that a security assessment is being conducted in this case.

Gordana Bjeletić, N1 correspondent and former editor of Južne vesti, recounted how she reported a drastic threat previously sent to the editorial office. The perpetrator was identified and a plea bargain was concluded with him by the prosecutor’s office in Belgrade, and a sentence of one year in prison, three years probation, was passed by the court on the basisof the aforementioned plea bargain.

According to Bjeletic, neither the respective editorial office nor she were informed about the verdict. She heard about the verdict from the PWG member Veran Matić. However, as it is well known, the prosecution has no legal obligation to inform the injured parties about the outcomes of the proceedings. Thus, it would be useful to consider the possibilities for educating journalists to use the rights they have as injured parties and to seek information about the proceedings in which they participate in that status.

The spokesperson of the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, Miša Stamenković, assessed that, after the introduction of the Binding Instructions of the Republic Public Prosecutor for urgent response in cases of threats and assaults against journalists, actions are accelerated, the prosecution reacts quickly, but also that the court sometimes does not accept the proposals of the prosecution. He noted that things are moving forward, that they need to build trust and educate journalists, which is an ongoing process that requires understanding.

Data on assaults against journalists from 2016 to 2022

In the period from 2016 to 2022, 460 criminal charges were pressed before the prosecutor’s office for assaults against journalists. It was decided in 267 cases that they contain elements of the commission of a criminal act. Out of that number, criminal sanctions were imposed in 76 cases, which means that, in the mentioned period, almost 30 percent of the committed criminal acts against journalists ended up with punished perpetrators. In 193 cases the prosecutor’s office decided that there were no elements of criminal acts, therefore dismissing those criminal charges, representing 41.96% of the total of 460 cases.

The prosecutor’s office also registered a decrease in the number of criminal charges for assaults against journalists from 87 in 2021 to 83 in 2022. According to the NUNS database, the number of assaults decreased from 151 in 2021 to 134 in 2022, most of which were pressures and verbal threats.

As already mentioned, NUNS recorded 37 assaults so far in 2023, of which 26 were pressures. Physical assaults and assaults against journalists’ property decreased from 24.34 percent in 2020 (46 out of 189 total assaults) to 9.07 percent in 2022 (13 out of 134 assaults) and 8.1 percent to date in 2023 (three out of 13 assaults). The number of verbal threats decreased as well, from 50 in 2020 to 44 in 2021 and 35 in 2022. However, the number of threats to journalists’ property increased from 1 in 2020 to 6 in 2022.

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