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News 02 Aug 16

Serbian Tabloid’s Call for ‘Mercenary’ Arrests Criticised

Human rights advocates have condemned a Serbian tabloid for calling for the arrest of so-called 'foreign mercenaries', calling it part of an ongoing campaign against journalists and NGOs.

Milivoje Pantovic
Front pages of the tabloid Srpski Telegraf, which called for arrests. Photo: Facebook

A prominent human rights lawyer in Belgrade has condemned a Serbian tabloid for calling for the arrest of alleged "foreign mercenaries" supposedly working to destabilise the country.

The newspaper Srpski Telegraf (Serbian Telegraph) on Monday called for arrests after it previously published an article claiming that the Russian secret service, the FSB, had compiled a 552-page list of  “foreign mercenaries” in the Serbian NGO, media and civil service sectors.

The newspaper claimed that the alleged FSB dossier would be forwarded to Serbian intelligence.

“The public prosecution should be dealing with this matter. There are numerous criminal issues in writings like this,” said Milan Antonijevic, from YUKOM - Lawyer’s Committee for Human Right.

Antonijevic  told BIRN that prosecutors should start by investigating how the tabloid might have got hold of such information, and also noted that spreading panic is a criminal act.

He  said that it is not clear whether Srpski Telegraf would go on to publish the names of the alleged “mercenaries” but added: “By law it is illegal to curse people just for advocating equality."

Vlado Mares, a member of Serbia's Press Council, said articles like the one published by Srpski Telegraf clearly violated the ethical code that journalists in Serbia are supposed to follow.

Mares argued that such articles insult people without any evidence, and argued that former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic used the same methods in the 1990s when dealing with critics of his own authoritarian regime.

“These are the tested methods that were used back in the nineties, when people were sorted into 'traitors' and 'patriots'. The ruling parties act today in the same way as in the Milosevic era,” Mares said.

Concerns that the Progressive Party-led government is opening a new front against critical media outlets and NGOs grew after government ministers were prominent at the opening of an exhibition in mid-July in Belgrade, entitled "Uncensored Lies".

The exhibition of "lies" contained a large selection of articles drawn from weekly magazines and newspapers that have criticised Aleksandar Vucic's government.

While the organizsers of the show claimed the intention was only to document what they deemed wrongful attacks on the government, many journalists felt it targeted them personally, and the show alarmed a number of editors and media watchdogs.

BIRN made several calls to Srpski Telegraf but did not manage to get a comment by the time of publication.

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