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News 27 May 14

OSCE Worried by Serbia Government Online Censorship

OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic has expressed concern over "a worrying trend of online censorship in Serbia" over the past week.

BIRN
Belgrade

Mijatovic urged the Serbian authorities to nurture uncensored debate on issues of public interest, especially in times of crisis, such as the current situation with flooding in the region.

“I am deeply concerned about allegations that websites and online content are being blocked. This is a clear violation of the right to free expression. The Internet provides unparalleled opportunities to support these rights and is essential for the free flow and access to information. In times of crisis free flow of information is vital to allow people to assess the situation for themselves,” Mijatovic said.

As the floods became severe, the Serbian government instated a state of emergency, which also gives authorities the power to detain individuals for “inciting panic during a state of emergency.”

Online content perceived as critical of the government’s reaction to the recent flooding in the country has been removed from several websites in Serbia. Entire websites such as “Druga strana” and “Teleprompter” were also temporarily disabled last week. 

Website of the Serbian daily paper Blic removed on Friday a blog post under the headline "I, AV [Aleksandar Vucic], resign." The blog is written by professor Novica Milic who is citing in a satirical way numerous reasons why Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic should resign.

Following the blog removal, people on social network started sharing it on other websites as they had found the original blog version in webcache.

Further, according to media reports three individuals have been detained, and 20 more people have been invited by the police for an interview for allegedly spreading panic with respect to the number of floods victims in Obrenovac.

“Arresting individuals because of their blogs, comments, or other forms of writing is not acceptable; it has a chilling effect on the general press freedom situation in the country and can lead to self-censorship. I urge the Serbian authorities to put an end to this, and stop interfering with the work of online media outlets,” Mijatovic said.

“My office stands ready to assist the authorities in any way necessary in order to ensure its actions are in line with OSCE commitments on media freedom.”

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