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Protest against the Serbian President in Belgrade, on December 29, 2018 © AFP

Serbian authorities must protect journalists who are targets of violence

WT24 Desk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Serbian authorities not to minimize threats and physical attacks against journalists, of which there have been several cases in recent weeks, and to provide journalists with better protection.

The latest case was an attempt on 30 December to break into the apartment to which Milan Jovanovic – an investigative reporter who has covered corruption involving local politicians – was forced to move after his Belgrade house burned down in a fire started by a Molotov cocktail on 12 December. Jovanovic, who was in the apartment at the time, has not been getting police protection despite his requests and says he fears for his safety. Reacting to his statement, President Aleksandar Vucic dismissed the attack as “just a burglary.”

“We strongly condemn the Serbian president’s comments minimizing the threats to journalists,” RSF said. “Such violence cannot be taken lightly. The authorities must accept that they have a duty to protect all journalists who are targets of harassment in connection with the provision of news and information or as a result of their investigative reporting.”

The Vojvodina Journalists’ Association (NDNV) has also condemned the president’s comments as “very dangerous” because they played down “the journalist Jovanovic’s obvious vulnerability” and because it was unthinkable that “future attacks against journalists and other people who irritate this regime could be minimized in the same way.”

Tatjana Vojtehovski, a well-known investigative reporter who often criticizes President Vucic on Twitter, was the target of death threats and rape threats on Twitter at the end of December, in which threats were also made against her daughter. Vojtehovski was previously the target of a wave of hatred and threats several months ago doing after series of TV reports about alleged embezzlement at a factory in the town of Lucani. Although a suspect was arrested and a warrant was issued for a second suspect, she has continued to receive constant threats.

During an interview for N1 TV on 30 December, President Vucic had a vigorous exchange with a team of journalists about the recent attacks on reporters and the current climate in the Serbian media. While continuing to minimize the recent events, Vucic claimed that he was combatting impunity and that those responsible for violence against journalists critical of the government had been arrested.

Anti-media rhetoric is being fuelled at the highest government level as Serbia continues to be embroiled in a deep political and social crisis, with the result that the press freedom situation and the climate for journalists are worsening by the day.

Serbia is ranked 76th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, after falling ten places in the space of a year.

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