14 May Press Shelter Zajecar: Pressure on journalist Stojanovic

MIljko Stojanovic: Being a target for authorities

Miljko Stojanovic faced the first pressure at the moment when he started working as a journalist in 2004, in the editorial office of the “Timok Crime Review” Then and now, the reason for pressure was his research writing in articles about local institutions.

The attacks kept on even after he continued his journalistic career in the local portal “Zajecar Online”. Although psychological pressure, insults, and fear have been a part of his everyday life from the very beginning, Miljko Stojanovic points out the intensity of the attacks in the period from 2017 until today has taken on a completely different, more perfidious form.

“As one of the more serious attacks, I would single out the one that took place in 2017, on the day of the local elections in Zajecar. In front of the election headquarters of the Serbian Progressive Party, twice during the same day, I was exposed to verbal attacks and intimidations, side by side, with my colleagues Vesna Radojevic, Sonja Kamenkovic and Gordana Bjeletic. Activists of the Serbian Progressive Party approached and forbade us to record a report on the election events in Zajecar. There were videos about that. I made a phone call to the local police station several times that day and asked for protection, but the officers told me on the phone that when the people who were interfering with us dispersed, I would come to the police station and report it. They did not intervene, although a police vehicle passed us at one point – it did not stop. Having in mind that such a reaction of the authorities caused additional fear and distrust in me, I did not go to the police station “, says Miljko Stojanovic.

On April 28, 2018, the Minister of the Interior, Nebojsa Stefanovic, visited Zajecar. On that occasion, during a press conference, Stojanović asked Stefanović about vehicles without license plates, which were spotted in Zajecar during the day when local elections were held in the town on Timok in 2017, and which were moving around the city unhindered.

Stojanović also informed Minister Stefanović about the attack on journalists on election day in front of the SNS election headquarters.

This conference was also marked by the address of the mayor of Zajecar, Bosko Nicic, to the journalist Stojanović at the moment when he addressed the question to Minister Stefanović, which was aiming to discredit him as a journalist.

“At the moment when I asked the question to Minister Stefanovic, Mayor Nicic asked me if I was asking the question as a member of the Democratic Party, LDP, or as a journalist. Although I don’t hide that I was a member of the LDP in the past, at the moment when Nicic asked me that question, I wasn’t a member of any party. Like every other citizen, I also have the right to political opinion, but it is left aside when I perform my journalistic duty. I also believe that political opinion must not be a reason or justification for a physical attack on anyone”,

explains Stojanovic.

Nebojsa Stefanovic’s answer to the questions asked at this conference arrived during the next visit of the Minister to Zajecar on September 14, 2019.

On that occasion, Stefanovic stated: “From what I have received as information, there wasn’t any official report to the Ministry of the Interior of someone committing a crime. Driving around the city is not a crime. Those jeeps used to be, Dragan Djilas used to drive a black BMW jeep cruising around Serbia and I don’t think it’s a crime, and not only him but others. We used to have several off-road vehicles that came from the territory of AP KIM. From vehicles that come from this territory under the Brussels Agreement, we remove the plates at the administrative crossings and give them temporary plates. We give them test plates that are cardboard, standing on the inside of the vehicle”.

Minister Stefanovic asked journalist Stojanovic whether these people had committed any act against him or his colleagues. After the answer of the journalist Miljko Stojanovic that he has a video, Minister Stefanovic said: “Please submit the video to the Chief of the Police Administration, I want it to be investigated to the end!

The material on the attack from 2017 was submitted to the Chief of the Zaječar Police Administration on October 11, 2019, according to the request of Minister Stefanovic. Journalists who participated in this event gave statements in local police administrations by order of the competent authorities. To this day, this event has not received its epilogue, nor have the perpetrators been punished.

Disparaging, name-calling and attacks continued even after this unfortunate event. After Stojanovic had joined the local information portal “Voice of Zajecar” they even have intensified. One of the first events took place on March 5, 2018, during the reporting on the floods in Zajecar, when the mayor of Zajecar ordered Miljko Stojanovic to leave the scene together with a colleague from the editorial office, allegedly for security reasons. It became clear that this was something completely different when Nicic gave a statement RTS team from the same place where he previously removed the team of the “Voice of Zajecar” portal. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia supported the standpoint of “Voice of Zajecar” journalists. Their dignity, reputation, and their right to work have been violated. Since the very beginning of their work, they have been exposed to verbal insults ranging from pejorative names “little journalists”, to insults related to physical appearance.

Pressures and belittling continued even after this event,  IJAS again directed public criticism for the continuous insult and oppression of certain journalists whose critical reporting obviously bothers the local government. Pressures and belittling continued even after this event. On 25th September 2019, IJAS again directed public criticism for the continuous insult and oppression of certain journalists whose critical reporting obviously bothers the local government.

On 10th December 2018, Miljko Stojanovic filed a criminal complaint against the mayor of Zajecar for hate speech.

“When I interviewed Borko Stefanovic in Belgrade in December 2018, after a protest walk called “Stop to Bloody Shirts, ” mayor Nicic wrote on his Facebook profile, an hour after the publication of my post, that Borko Stefanovic and I have faked an interview. He called me a “bunny from our alley”, a “quasi-journalist”, Borko Stefanovic “one who sold Kosovo and Metohija” and finally added that Borko should watch out because I was a “bunny with long incisors which could bite where it shouldn’t.” I understood it as an insult and a call for a lynching. After that, his friends followed up on his post with comments: what a strong source, apparently Voice of Zajecar is a tabloid in an attempt. Then Bosko Nicic called us human misery, and his friends called us bums. On that occasion, Radisa Nikolic wrote a comment with the following content: “This one did not die from an injury – a pity.” Thinking obviously of Borko Stefanovic, to which Nicic replied: “God forbid he dies, without such, people couldn`t tell good from evil, thieves from honest people.” On 9th December, Bosko Nicic published a post: “The hunter catches a bunny while sleeping.” I felt personally called out, it is known in Zajecar that my nickname has been Miljko Zec since school days, since I was quite successful in running, which is also known to mayor Nicic, ” explains Miljko Stojanovic.

Boško Nicic: The powerful man behind the attack on Stojanovic

Disparaging and insults were not directed only at Miljko personally,  members of his family were also under attack by locally powerful people. Stojanovic points out the most painful thing was the event that took place the day before his wedding when extremely inappropriate and insulting remarks have been made about his wife.

“The day before my wedding, on August 23, 2019, the mayor of Zajecar made several remarks about my wife, who is originally from Ukraine. In one of the announcements, he stated the following: “I heard (like you would say from reliable sources) that tomorrow afternoon we have some international art performance in the city…, so may (all of us) be happy # dedicated.” Needless to say, there was no international art performance in Zajecar that day, so it was more than clear to me that it was an allusion to my wedding. After that, he wrote: “But the rabbit was offended (recognized himself), so instead of grazing grass, he eats himself.” On the wedding day, he posted a photo of the bride leading a rabbit on a leash. The photo is accompanied by text: “Attraction.. p.s.  forgotten part of the costume in the bag.” Because of his announcements, I was contacted by many friends, who, like me, understood the clear insinuations and understood that the mayor was talking about my wedding. This was extremely painful for my wife and me, adds Stojanović.

The next attack, which Stojanović says he perceives as the most serious of all he faced, took place on June 18, 2020, on the eve of the parliamentary elections. On that day, he was verbally attacked and prevented from attending the gathering of the Serbian Progressive Party in Vratarnica as a journalist. Teams from other media houses attended the same gathering unhindered, while Stojanovic was told he could not attend the gathering. According to Stojanovic, before the meeting, city councilor Vukasin Lakicević addressed Stojanović with these words: “You can’t come in, let’s see how you get in, you’re writing nonsense about my brother. I know who told you to do that. I respect you, you should respect us – Serbian Progressive Party says, there is no entry. Let’s see if you can write something about this.”

“I understand that they had an order to stop me and insult me, but I don’t understand the police’s actions. The police stood few meters away from us with their heads bowed in silence. After that event, I went to the Police Department and filed a criminal complaint. On August 24, the prosecution replied that, since there was no indication in the police note that any incident happened, the criminal complaint has been dismissed. On that occasion, I wrote a post on my Facebook profile with the following content:

“After the meeting in Vratarnica, police officers Bojan Miladnovic, Miljan Radenkovic, Miso Pajkic, and Srdjan Stankovic wrote a note that there was no disturbance of peace and order, verbal conflict, or threats on that occasion. These policemen kept silent about what really happened, and after the change of government, they won’t be allowed to work in the police.

A summons due to the lawsuit filed against Stojanovic by two of the four police officers mentioned in the announcement came to the court in December. Mentioned individuals submitted a request for compensation for inflicting insult and mental pain in the amount of 200,000 dinars.. Three hearings have been held so far, and a fourth is scheduled for May 27th.

“Commenting on their work led me from being a victim to being accused. I consider this lawsuit as another in a series of pressures, and I believe that its goal is to intimidate and put me personally in a difficult financial position,”  journalist points out.

Despite pressure and attacks, Stojanovic says he will continue working. He believes that objective journalism is the last defense of a civilized society and order in which media freedom is called into question. Journalists are walking targets who are constantly targeted by powerful people who appropriate the right to invalidate the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.