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news 20 May 14

Serbia Floods Interrupt Free Flow of News

Websites criticising the government's handling of the flood disaster in Serbia have come under attack from hackers in what some call a covert act of censorship.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade
Obrenovac floods. Photo by Beta/AP Darko Vojinovic

Creators of the Serbian blog Druga Strana, which published critical posts on the Serbian state's handling of the flooding, were forced to shut it down on Tuesday after repeat attacks on the site.

"The site has been under heavy attack so we decided to shut it down in order not to compromise other sites on the server," Nenad Milosavljevic said.

The unknown hackers' attacks started after the site posted a story under headline "State, we would not keep you any longer", which lambasted the official response to the disastrous flooding that has hit the country and called for officials to accept responsibility.

"The state has shown unprecedented inertia, reluctance and complete disorganization. Who needs such a country?" the post said.

The post continued by saying that people do not need a state that is unable to assess the risk, or which lies to deal with problems.

"If I had not known that you have no conscience, I might have said that you should all resign," the post added.

This blog post flooded social media as many people shared it, after which the hacking attacks started. Milosavljevic's blog post is still available in web cache archive.

Belgrade site erases mayor's wrong instructions

Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali used the city website to urge the people of Obrenovac municipality on Friday not to leave their homes even though the Kolubara river had already burst its banks and flooded 90 per cent of the town at the time.

The erroneous instruction was soon removed from the site and the mayor later denied he ever said such words. But the statement can still be found in web cache archive on the internet.

The media did not report on this or the fact that people in Obrenovac tried to alert official institutions the night before the mayor made his claim that the river had burst its banks.

This is only last in a series of cases that suggest the free flow of information is being impeded during the disaster that has claimed at least 21 lives and forced more than 30,000 to evacuate their homes.

Another website, Teleprompter.rs, has also been shut down.

"We regretfully announce the information that the site Teleprompter.rs was hacked and censored today because of our texts and fight for the truth!" Danilo Redzepovic, Teleprompter's editor, said on Tuesday.

The statement added that they had received a number of threats because of an article entited "Demand: Vucic stop pathos and self-pity," along with other texts that said the public administration was not up to to the task of protecting people.

"Obviously, this was not only a threat because we now no longer have a website," Redzepovic added.

The text in question accused Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic of manipulating public emotion in the recent crisis.

"Even in these most difficult times, Aleksandar Vucic found a couple of seconds to play the ultimate sacrifice in Serbia and to manipulate the gullible public with pathos," the text reads.

Other media outlets say they have been attacked only for releasing unwelcome information. Local Soko radio station from the town of Ljubovija said it came under harsh attack for airing information that other media did not carry on what was going on in the town.

"After we aired a story saying that the bridge on Ljubovija river [Drina basin] was flooded on Wednesday, I got calls from the local authorities and emergency staff demanding the source of my information in a threatening tone," Zoran Protic, the radio station owner, complained.

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