Serbia: Targeting of journalists and NGOs a blatant act of intimidation

Amnesty International condemns investigations launched by the Serbian state into the activities of NGOs and journalists. The investigations come in the wake of anti-government protests.

Serbia: Targeting of journalists and NGOs a blatant act of intimidation (Amnesty, link):

"Responding to news that Serbia’s Finance Ministry has launched a terrorist financing and money laundering probe into several journalists and dozens of nongovernmental organizations that work on human rights and transparency, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muiznieks, said:

“The targeting of journalists and NGOs on absurd allegations of money laundering and financing terror is a blatant act of intimidation and the latest in an ongoing campaign by Serbian authorities to silence critics.

“This kind of arbitrary investigation that specifically targets those critical of the government undermines the right to freedom of expression and threatens freedom of the press. These investigations must be dropped.”

BACKGROUND

The Ministry of Finance has requested bank information from 20 individuals and 37 nongovernmental organizations and institutions including the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and Serbia’s two main journalist associations, as well as rights groups such as the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Civic Initiatives."

Some further information is available in a story by Balkan Insight: Amnesty Urges Serbia to Drop Probe Into Critical NGOs (link):

"The 57 NGOs or people whose data are sought by the Serbian authorities include the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, CINS, Crime and Corruption Reporting Network KRIK, the Novi Sad Journalism School, both of Serbia’s major journalism associations and a host of rights groups, including Civic Initiatives, YUCOM, the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and the Humanitarian Law Centre.

The targeted individuals include a number of BIRN employees, CINS director Branko Cecen, TV Newsmax Adria Serbia head and former BIRN editor Slobodan Georgiev and the journalists Biljana Stepanovic and Vukasin Obradovic. An opposition politician, Vuk Jeremic, is also named.

Some 130 civil society organizations have called on the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering to present its grounds for suspicion and justify why it ordered the extraordinary collection of information from the banks."

Although neither of the above two reports mention it, the investigations come in the wake of large anti-government protests in the country.

See: What were the protests in Serbia really about? (Al Jazeera, link)

"The media in both Serbia and the West was quick to characterise the protests as anti-lockdown riots, but this was far from the truth.

The immediate trigger of the protests was public anger over Vucic's decision to lift the initial lockdown in May and to portray himself as having successfully tackled the outbreak ahead of the June 21 elections, thereby making political gains but also allowing a new spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.

But the roots of the mass civil disobedience lie in years of political dissent among Serbians of all walks of life, fed up with the rife corruption, media suppression, neoliberal policies and creeping authoritarianism of the Vucic rule. This civil resistance is very much reminiscent of the grassroots revolution that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000."

And a more in-depth examination of the roots, actions and consequences of the protest movement: Mass protest in Serbia and an attempt of state-led demobilisation (dversia.net, link)

 

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