16 Aug Three freedoms under the magnifying glass: 1-15 August, 2019

Belgrade, 16 August, 2019 – 

Review of violations of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Serbia

1-15 August, 2019

Association. Assembly. Expression.

These three freedoms must be guaranteed to all. These three freedoms form the basis of civil society. No country can call itself democratic without guaranteeing these rights.

These freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Serbia. Practice, however, shows the opposite. We are witnessing more and more frequent attacks on associations, activists and the free media. The space in which they operate is increasingly narrowed as the number of attacks, threats, intimidation and insults increases.

Following the publication of the summary account of violations of these rights in Serbia from March to July, last week, we are now presenting key cases of violations of freedom of assembly, association and expression in Serbia from August 1-15, 2019.

We believe that regularly collecting and publishing cases of violation of these rights can help to raise the visibility of this trend that is growing rapidly and draw attention to the seriousness of the problems we face.

In March this year Serbia was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List as a country where these freedoms are seriously threatened.

* Civic Initiatives as a partner of CIVICUS Monitor for Serbia send bi-weekly reports in English since August 2018.  Learn more about the CIVICUS Monitor here.

Representatives of 20 civil society organisations signed in Belgrade the Three Freedoms Platform for the Protection of Civic Space in the Republic of Serbia, in order to protect and promote the freedom of association, assembly and information.The Platform is intended to act as a joint block of civil society organizations (associations, professional organizations, foundations, endowments, and other forms of associations including informal groups of citizens) to stand for the protection of endangered freedoms and create conditions for unhindered participation of citizens in public affairs through civil society development.

 

  • Freedom of Assembly

There was an incident on the last “1 in 5 Million” protest in front of the Serbian Presidency building. A delegation of protesters tried to deliver a list of demands to the President but was stopped by security guards who pushed them back across the fence and then prevented others from crossing over. One of the participants of the “1 in 5 million” protest, SrdjanMarkovic, ended up in the emergency room, where he said it was determined that his ribs and head were injured. He claimed that he did not break the law because the presidency is a public building, not a residence and added that the security detail did not have the right to use force outside the building.  He also stated that the police knew that they wanted to submit requests and that the persons who attacked them were civilians without official badges or uniforms. He recalled that Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that the Kobras (military unit personnel) securing the presidency, acted under orders from the supreme commander, which he understood to mean that President Aleksandar Vucic personally ordered them to react. While president said members of the Armed Forces only “protected the Presidency building” and used “minimum force”, experts say there was overuse of force and questioned why communication between the Army and Police (with whom protesters previously agreed on leaving demands in front of the Presidency Building) did not work that evening.

 

  • Freedom of Expression 

Mario Spasic, the Secretary-General of the Council for Monitoring, Human Rights and Fight Against Corruption – Transparency, the renowned GONGO Association, filed charges against  Goran Ilic, deputy public prosecutor, because of his tweetThe tweet is a part of Ilic’s article published in the independent Danas daily on July 25 as an opinion titled “Why Prosecutors Should be Independent.”. Mario Spasic said Ilic’s tweet was a proof of his political impassion and confirmed he was against the current regime in the country. This GONGO association mainly focuses on discrediting the work of reputable and independent civil society organizations and giving legitimacy to all decisions made by the government. This is another case of a direct attack on freedom of speech and a message to all who want to express their opinion in public. One of the recommendations of The Council of Europe was that Serbia needs to provide more freedom of expression for the prosecutors.

 

Maja Pavlovic, the owner of TV Channel 9, started hunger strike for the third time in 15 months, after saying the promises from her meeting with Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic were not met. She decided to go on hunger strike again because the state institutions did not do their job despite Prime Minister’s and some other official’s promises. She is currently awaiting an invitation to meet with the President of the Republic.  Her hunger strike in the spring lasted 23 days and ended with a meeting with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, where she was promised that the relevant institutions would work on her case. This is just another case where the Government is only declaratively talking about dialogue but is not taking any further steps. This case illustrates the state’s attitude to the media.

 

Follow bi-weekly presentations of violations of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Serbia.