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News 12 Oct 17

Serbia’s Parliament Using Penalties ‘to Silence Opposition’

Opposition MPs in Serbia say the speaker is handing out a very disproportionate number of penalties to opponents of the ruling coalition in order to silence them.

Maja Zivanovic

Photo: Serbian Parliament

After 60 of the 62 penalties given to Serbian MPs last year were reportedly given to opposition MPs, some of them have accused the speaker of parliament of using the disciplinary measures as a tool to silence them in sessions.

“MPs from the ruling coalition have degraded parliament … with a clear goal of crushing the only serious debate in the country,” opposition Nova Stranka [New Party] MP Marinika Tepic told BIRN.

Tepic was punished on May 29 with a reduction of 40 per cent of one month’s salary after she accused parliament of allowing fascism, after an MP from the ruling coalition showed pictures at a session of the child of a fellow MP, Zoran Zivkovic, attending anti-government protests – in support of an argument that opposition parties were behind the protests.  

Tepic called the penalty system “a successful tool for punishing the opposition” which, besides fines, carries the risk of a 20-day exclusion from parliamentary sessions.

She claimed the parliamentary majority had “a clear intention … to exclude and sack as many opposition MPs as possible from the debate about the budget for 2018”.

She maintained that such disiplinary measures should be used only to deal with serious security risks and threats, not with the purely political risk that an MP might say something the authorities do not like.

The number of penalties being imposed on MPs is disputed. Vecernje novosti newspaper reported on September 29 that some 22 MPs had been punished since June 2016 with 46 penalties handed out for interfering with or interrupting the work of parliament.

But Dveri party MP Bosko Obradovic claims the number of penalties has risen to 62 with some MPs being punished more than once at the same session.

The money from the penalties is used to help fund the medical treatment of children and the work of public kitchens in Kosovo.

Obradovic on October 10 told Serbian public broadcaster RTS that the authorities were trying to silence opposition voices.

He himself was punished several times this year for “insulting” parliament, once for bringing in a stone from the former province of Kosovo, which he used as a metaphor for Kosovo’s importance in the eyes of Serbia.

His colleague MP, Marija Janjusevic, was punished on October 7, after she accused the speaker of violating of the rules of procedure. Her microphone was turned off before she even finished her speech, after which she approached the speaker’s lectern and tried to turn his microphone off.

Obradovic got two warnings at the same session, while another Dveri MP, Srdjan Nogo, was excluded from the session for trying to raise a discussion about whether people close to the Government were tapping citizens.

Janjusevic told BIRN that the spike in penalties showed that the regime was “beginning to fear and feel insecure.

“The regime’s stance toward the opposition is actually the most authentic possible picture of the government’s treatment of its people. The regime is completely deaf to the disgrace and rebellion of a large number of citizens,” she added.

The opposition Democratic Party has also condemned the number of punishments handed out to MPs who are not part of the ruling coalition.

In May, three Democratic Party MPs were punished with 10-per-cent cuts in salaries for insulting parliament. In September, another of its MPs was punished with a 20-per-cent cut in salary.

Democratic Party MP Aleksandra Jerkov told BIRN that the ruling majority was blatantly ignoring the parliament’s own rules of procedure.

“They do not apply them [the rules] and the presidency [of parliament] enjoys the use of naked force and the suppression of moral and legal norms,” she said.

She said it was time for citizens of Serbia “to clearly see who [in parliament] is there to obstruct and who is fighting for the interests of everyone in Serbia”.

BIRN sent questions to the president of parliament about the allegations of unfair treatment but did not receive an answer by the time of publication.

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