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Serbia: escalating threats and attacks against journalists in Novi Sad

ECPMF

21 March 2024

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The escalation of threats and violence suffered by journalists in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, has reached an unprecedented level in the past fortnight. The undersigned organisations urge the Serbian authorities to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the persistent attacks on journalists and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted accordingly. 

 

In just ten days, no fewer than seven journalists have faced threats and assaults in the city of Novi Sad alone. Whether it is physical assaults, verbal abuse, online harassment or death threats, the ability of Serbian journalists to do their job is severely compromised and their safety is at risk. 

 

On 8 March 2024, journalists from Tanjug and Kurir Television, along with 021.rs radio, were verbally assaulted while covering a demonstration supporting Ana Mihaljica, whose three children were temporarily taken away from her by the Novi Sad Centre for Social Work. During a live broadcast on Tanjug, reporter Saška Drobnjak was interrupted by a woman claiming to be Mihaljica’s lawyer threatening the journalists, whom she accused of lying. A Tanjug photographer, a Kurir correspondent, and Žarko Bogosavljević of Reporter 021 were also verbally abused. According to the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS), the police present did not intervene to prevent interference in the journalists’ work. N1 correspondent Ksenija Pavkov also received numerous online insults and threats of physical violence for her coverage of the demonstration. 

 

That same week, two other journalists and leaders of the Vojvodina Association of Independent Journalists (NDNV), Ana Lalić Hegediš and Dinko Gruhonjić, received thousands of online death threats sent via social media and email. Ana Lalić Hegediš has been the target of terrifying death threats including some of sexual nature and insults, also directed at the NDNV she leads, for comments she made on nationalism at the “Rebedu” festival in Dubrovnik where she was invited as a panellist. Lalić mainly mentioned the Serbian authorities, who do not consider Vojvodina’s citizens as Serbs enough because of their multi-confessionalism and multi-ethnicity.

 

Since 14 March 2024, her colleague Dinko Gruhonjić, journalist lecturer at Novi Sad University and program director of NDNV, has feared for his life and those of members of his family.  Gruhonjić has been the target of a public lynching campaign including threats of physical violence since the publication of a video montage with excerpts from his performance at the Rebid festival in Dubrovnik last year. The montage was manipulated to give the impression that Dinko was expressing his satisfaction at sharing a name with the Ustasha criminal Dinko Šakić. NDNV reported these threats to the high-tech crime prosecutor’s office and, for some of them, provided the details of the perpetrators who signed with their names. 

 

“We have been under attack with the Association for decades. But this time, it’s the greatest pressure ever. Who knows what will happen to us” worries Lalić, while Gruhonjić deplores the “policy of impunity when it comes to threats against the independence of the press in Serbia, even when the perpetrators are not anonymous”.

 

“The number of threats and insults against journalists is on the rise in Serbia. Knowing that Serbia is a country where the three murders of journalists in the last three decades have not been punished, we are very worried about every threat against journalists that goes unresolved,” said Tamara Filipović, project manager of the Association of Independent Journalists of Serbia (NUNS).

 

On 15 March 2024, a resident of Novi Sad filed criminal complaints against Gruhonjić and Lalić for allegedly inciting racial, religious, and national hatred and intolerance during their participation at the forum in Dubrovnik. “We have serious reasons thinking the plaintiff is connected to members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party” declared Gruhonjić. Some politicians have revived the insults in public debates.  

 

We join the Safe Journalists Network in calling on officials to refrain from targeting the media in Serbia. Their hostile rhetoric legitimises and normalises verbal and physical violence against journalists and media workers. We urge authorities to guarantee a safe environment for journalists, allowing them to work without fearing for their lives, and to put an end to the unacceptable culture of impunity by systematically investigating attacks and complaints.

 

Signed:

ARTICLE19 Europe

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Safejournalists network

This statement was coordinated as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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