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News 02 Jun 17

Inauguration Day Attacks Alarm Serbian Journalists

Media unions say the spate of attacks on reporters that took place as Aleksandar Vucic was being inaugurated as President of Serbia sent a grim message about what journalists can expect in future.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Protesters were not allowed to come near the Parliament on Wednesday. Photo: BIRN

After Aleksandar Vucic was sworn in as President of Serbia on a day marked by several incidents, including attacks on journalists, media representatives have warned that journalists can expect only a worse situation in future.

“Stop being silent!,” is the title of the letter that the head of the Independent Serbian Journalists' Association, Slavisa Lekic, on Thursday sent to the Ministry of Information, condemning it for not reacting to Wednesday’s incidents.

A journalist from the daily newspaper Danas, Lidija Valtner, reported being attacked while filming another incident.

Slavisa Lekic expressed suspicion that Aleksandar Vucic permitted such attacks on journalists.

“If not, this morning ... he would have apologised to them, and given his assurances that in his mandate as President of Serbia, it would never happen again,” Lekic told BIRN.

In fact, Vucic did apologize on Thursday at an event in the northern town of Pancevo to all journalists who had been attacked, adding, however, that he “didn’t hear if any journalist was attacked”.

At another occasion on Vucic’s inauguration day, police checked the IDs of BIRN, Insajder and VICE reporters near parliament without explanation after they filmed an incident in which Vucic fans ripped up a banner carried by protesters.

Earlier, a fight erupted between two smaller groups of Vucic’s supporters and opponents, while both were heading towards the parliament.

In the ensuing scuffle, around ten men pushed away a Radio Belgrade reporter and knocked out her audio recorder when she asked them who they were, according to the Independent Journalists’ Association.

The incidents were condemned by all journalists associations and opposition parties.

However, the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday denied that police officers had been involved in attacks and added that incidents with journalists would be probed.

"Police will investigate each of the reported cases and inform the competent prosecutor's office about everything - which will then decide whether there are reasons for charges," the ministry said.

BIRN tried to contact State Secretary at the Ministry, Biljana Popovic Ivkovic, on Thursday, but she did not answer.      

Reportedly, the prosecution launched a joint investigation which will include the attacks on the journalists of Danas, Insajder, VICE and Radio Belgrade.

The president of the Association of Journalists of Serbia, Vladimir Radomirovic, told BIRN that officials must respect freedom of expression because without a free media there can be no democratic society.

“This also applies to the new President of Serbia. It would send a strong message to the public if he would condemn violence against journalists and threats against them and ask the authorities to urgently find and punish those who yesterday threatened journalists, used physical force and destroyed their equipment,” Radomirovic said.

The head of the Online Media Association, Predrag Blagojevic, agreed with Lekic and Radomirovic.

“I'm afraid that all of this from yesterday … sent a message about what we can expect,” Blagojevic told BIRN.

“It is very important for people to understand that attacks on journalists are not attacks on one person or the media but on all citizens, because their rights to be informed … are suspended,” he concluded.

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