22 Sep CIVICUS: Serbia added to human rights watchlist as government flip flops on decision to permit EuroPride gathering in Belgrade

22 September 2022

 

  • Authorities attempt to ban Belgrade’s first staging of EuroPride rally 
  • Protests on environmental issues have faced restrictions
  • Environmental defenders face judicial harassment through SLAPPs

 

Serbia has been added to a watchlist of countries that have seen a rapid decline in civic freedoms, with concerns about the authorities attempts to ban the LGBTQI+ EuroPride peaceful march on  17 September in Belgrade. Just days before the pan-European gathering, Serbian authorities banned the peaceful march, only to reverse its decision hours beforehand. 

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories. Other countries included on the list are Guatemala, Guinea, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Despite attempts to ban the EuroPride march, at the last minute the government allowed a short ‘walk’ to take place on 17th September 2022. However, anti-LGBTQI+ protesters carrying crosses and bibles, trampled on an LGBTQI+ rainbow flag, attempted to disrupt the march and attacked police and journalists. About 64 were detained in relation to these clashes. 

Concerningly, several LGBTQI+ activists reported being physically attacked after the event. LGBTQI+ activists from Germany and Albania were targeted while returning to their hotel, with activists reporting that police failed to swiftly intervene. Two of the activists were injured during the incident. 

The government’s attempts to ban the EuroPride march come as LGBTQI+ rights are under attack. For example, the premises of the Pride Info Centre in Belgrade has been repeatedly defaced. There have been 15 attacks since the Center opened three years ago, with none of the previous attackers held accountable. 

“This ban is a continuation of a practice of banning peaceful assemblies because of violent counter-assemblies. The LGBTQI+ community were again betrayed by the authorities, bearing in mind that EuroPride was organised based on government-civil society partnership since the very start, with authorities retreating their support at the last moment. All persons who called for or committed violence before and during EuroPride need to be held responsible for their actions. This would be a starting point for authorities to show that they are fully committed to protecting the right to peaceful assembly and to battling discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community,” said Uroš Jovanović, Gradjanske inicijative (Civic Initiatives).

We are also concerned about restrictions on protests for environmental rights. Just last month, protesters, who were camping on mount Starica near Majdanpek, East Serbia, to prevent mining at this site, were attacked by private security who destroyed their base.

Additionally, environmental defenders are facing judicial harassment through Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), intended to silence and intimidate them. In one example, Activist Dragana Arsić, the Let’s Defend the Forests of Fruska Gora movement, and the civic association Fruškać have faced a total of five SLAPPs from the co-owners of the Galens construction company, for their environmental activism.

These concerning developments take place as President Aleksandar Vucic’s secured a re-election in April 2022, amid growing pressure on civil society and journalists and restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly.

“Respect for civic freedoms is a key requirement for Serbia’s accession to the European Union. If the Serbian government is serious about joining the EU, it must urgently commit to respecting civic freedoms and halt all attacks on LGBTQI+ rights, journalists, environmental defenders and civil society. In addition, the EU must closely monitor developments on civic freedoms in the country, said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher Europe, CIVICUS.

Serbia is currently rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 42 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see the full description of ratings).

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