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Serbia: Investigative outlet KRIK sued by state security agency…

Serbia: Investigative outlet KRIK sued by state security agency director

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is deeply concerned by the lawsuit targeted at a journalist and the editor-in-chief of the Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) by the director of Serbia’s Security-Information Agency (BIA).

The MFRR urges the BIA director Bratislav Gasic to immediately withdraw the civil lawsuit against KRIK and to refrain from weaponising the law to intimidate media outlets investigating the nexus between crime, corruption and politics in Serbia.

The lawsuit stems from an article KRIK published on April 9 which reported details of wiretapped conversations played as evidence in the murder trial of criminal gang chief Zoran Jotic, during which Gasic’s name was mentioned.

The article by journalist Milica Vojinovic reported that during one of the recordings one accused gang members said that Jotic did not have to worry about his safety because Gasic was “on the cauldron”, i.e. on the payroll of the clan leader. KRIK asked Gasic to comment before publishing the story but the request went unanswered.

In response to the article – “Political connections of the Krusevac criminal group: ‘Jotka had Gasic on the cauldron’ – the BIA director denied the allegations and accused KRIK’s journalist of presenting “a malicious interpretation of the wiretapped conversation” which damaged his “reputation and honour”. The 500,000 dinars (€4,250) lawsuit called on the court to “let the media know that borders exist and must be respected.”

KRIK editor-in-chief, Stevan Dojčinović, has rightly defended the article and said KRIK is prepared to fight the case in court, stressing it simply conveyed information from evidence presented during the trial, which was held under normal reporting conditions. The article reported numerous other details from the intercepted phone conversations about alleged criminal associations with unnamed government ministers.

Journalists are free to publish anything which is said or given as evidence in a Serbian court. The information reported by KRIK was presented as evidence by the prosecution, it was reported accurately, and the BIA director was given the chance to respond, in line with standard journalistic practice.

Our organisations therefore consider this lawsuit to be groundless and hope it will be swiftly dismissed by the courts. It is an unacceptable attempt to pressure KRIK not to report information which is clearly in the public interest. This lawsuit also comes on the back of a concerted and baseless smear campaign against KRIKs journalists in recent months which has been fanned by certain politicians.

These kinds of vexatious demands for damages against investigative media outlets burden them with costly legal fees and lengthy court battles, distracting from their job of exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account. In Serbia, such lawsuits have all too often been instrumentalised by politicians or powerful individuals to try and stifle independent reporting, as our recent MFRR report outlined.

We call on Director Gasic to withdraw the lawsuit and for public officials and politicians in Serbia to stop using insult and defamation laws as a tool to intimidate critical journalism. Courts must fully comply with international freedom of expression standards when ruling on cases brought by public officials against media which involve claims involving harm in the form of mental anguish.

As our MFRR report notes, press and media freedom in Serbia are in serious need of improvement. An end to baseless lawsuits against journalists and independent media outlets by the country’s public officials would be a good place to start.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa
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Solidarity with DJV Thuringia targeted by a wave of…

Germany: Solidarity with DJV Thuringia targeted by a wave of hate speech and threats

The German Journalist Association (DJV) in Thuringia has been subjected to an alarming wave of hate speech and threats since 1 May, peaking with a death threat addressed to its managing director Sebastian Scholz. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) stands in solidarity with DJV and urges the police to investigate the case.

The DJV in Thuringia have received numerous hate emails and threatening phone calls since an incident on 1 May. During a demonstration, its managing director Sebastian Scholz – no longer working as a journalist – tripped up a demonstrator from the “Querdenker” movement as a reaction to the same protestor previously violently breaking through a police chain and hitting and injuring a cameraman. Scholz actually intervened to bring down a violent demonstrator who was trying to escape. However, the shortened video clips that were distributed widely doesn’t mention the whole story.

Regarding the hatred, threats and insults that were stirred by the dissemination of this video, the DJV Thuringia stated: “It shows very clearly that these people are not interested in facts, but that they are only looking for reasons for violence and hatred. We, the board of directors of the DJV Thuringia, condemn the way in which self-appointed defenders of democracy twist the facts and incite violence against our managing director.

The DJV Thuringia received approximately 500 mails, Facebook comments and Facebook messages, a majority of which were insults and threats. Also, an anonymous criminal complaint was filed against Scholz. This campaign against the DJV Thuringia now culminated in a death threat against Sebastian Scholz on 11 May. As seen in thisvideo, a caller threatened Scholz directly, saying, “If he trips a protester again, he will be shot in the head!”.

The DJV Thuringia reported the hate messages to the criminal police and have filed a criminal complaint. In addition, the criminal police have initiated ex officio investigations. The EFJ surges the authorities to hold accountable those behind the campaign .

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the President of the EFJ, said:

The appalling hate campaigns that German media workers face, sometimes leading to press freedom violations, and now these death threats must stop. Society has a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for journalists and need to follow up on both the recommendation from the Council of Europe and the UN Action Plan for the safety of journalists and develop a strong and firm national action plan with all parties on board such as police, judges, relevant ministries, journalists, etc. to develop mechanisms not only to monitor but also to address this increasing issue in Germany.

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Growing hostility leads to attacks on RTV journalists in…

Growing hostility leads to attacks on RTV journalists in Slovenia

IPI calls on government of Janez Janša to lead the way in reducing insults and threats.

The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed its growing concern about the increasing climate of hostility towards journalists and executives at Slovenia’s public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTVS). Its statement highlights recent attacks and incidents of harassment and calls on the members of the new government led by Prime Minister Janez Janša to stop its efforts to undermine the integrity, independence and public trust in Slovenia’s public broadcaster, and instead work to defuse tensions.

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MFRR call on the UK Government to act in…

Declining media freedom in the UK

MFRR partners sent this letter to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson raising their concerns regarding the decline in press freedom in the UK and attempts of the UK Government to restrict media scrutiny of its policies and discredit critical reporting.

An independent media is vital to hold governments to account, inform the public and share information that strengthens civic debate and the recent actions to restrict access, discredit critical journalism and isolate journalists and media workers highlights a number of distinct threats to the state of press freedom in the UK

UPDATE: On 27th July, the MFRR received a letter from the Direct Communications Unit at 10 Downing Street in relation to the open letter sent on 29th May. Read the UK Government’s response below

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Threats against journalists in Northern Ireland must stop

Threats against journalists in Northern Ireland must stop

A number of journalists from Sunday World and Sunday Life were warned of credible threats from dissident loyalists, which included threats of violence against their colleagues and a threat of a car bomb.

Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners, press freedom and freedom of expression organisations, journalists’ organisations, journalists and media workers condemn these threats, call for those behind the threats to be brought to justice and increased protections for the journalists to be able to continue their work free from threats of violence.

UPDATE: On 9th June 2020, the MFRR received a response from Naomi Long MLA, the Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive. Read her response below

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Briefing: Latest Media Freedom Violations in Europe during COVID-19

Briefing: Latest Media Freedom Violations in Europe during COVID-19

Several arrests of journalists covering anti-lockdown protests documented in European states

by IPI

Key trends

Arrests and attacks on journalists covering anti-government protests during Covid-19

Across Europe, several journalists have been arrested, detained or charged by police in recent weeks as they were reporting on anti-government/anti-lockdown protests in their countries. On each occasion, the media workers were detained for breaching lockdown and social distancing measures. All were simply there to do their job and report events of public interest for their respective media outlets.

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IPI urges inquiry into arrest of investigative journalist in…

IPI urges inquiry into arrest of investigative journalist in Bulgaria

Calls for scrutiny following claims drug charges were fabricated

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged Bulgarian authorities to investigate the arrest of Bulgarian freelance journalist Dimiter Petzov following claims the arrest was staged to intimidate him.

Petzov, an award-winning investigative journalist focusing on local corruption in Bulgaria, was arrested on May 2 on charges of illegal drug possession. He was detained for 24 hours after local police officers allegedly found 11.7 grams of ecstasy, 7.2 grams of heroin, 13 grams of amphetamine and 7.2 grams of cannabis in his car, according to news reports.

Petzov has questioned the legitimacy of his arrest and accused the local authorities of framing him. In an interview for dnevnik.bg on May 6, he claimed that his arrest was baseless, carried out without presence of witnesses, and added that he suspected it was related to a story he had previously written. He also denied having obtained drugs or suffering from an addiction.

In 2017, Petzov was awarded the Golden Key award for his contribution to freedom of information. He has also been an associate of the Anti-Corruption Fund in Bulgaria for two years.

Intimidation and interference with the work of independent and investigative journalists is not uncommon in Bulgaria. According to an IPI analysis published earlier this year, critical journalists in Bulgaria have faced legal harassment and smear campaigns in retaliation for their work. In March, IPI reported on the case of a newspaper editor left unconscious after being beaten with metal pipes. In 2018, Petzov himself suffered a broken arm when he attacked at his home by an unknown man armed with a metal pipe.

“We urge Bulgarian authorities to clarify the circumstances related to the arrest of Dimiter Petzov through a speedy and transparent investigation”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Should the investigation confirm fears that his arrest was staged or manipulated, those responsible must be held to account. The harassment of investigative journalists represents a serious attack on the public’s right to information.”

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Journalists and media workers need to be protected when…

Protect journalists and media workers at protests and demonstrations

MFRR partners share a statement condemning the threats and attacks against journalists and media workers when covering demonstrations and protests in Germany, France, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, Poland and Italy. The MFRR calls for increased protection for media freedom across Europe from protestors, unknown 3rd parties and police officers to ensure they are free to continue their work informing the public.

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Analysing the impact to media freedom of the COVID-19…

Analysing the impact to media freedom of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The briefing paper, Media Freedom Violations in the EU under COVID-19, drafted by IPI, as part of the MFRR, shows how in a short space of time, several states have implemented emergency laws and restrictions which challenge the ability of journalists to inform the public and hold those in power to account. Read more “Analysing the impact to media freedom of the COVID-19 Pandemic”

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IPI condemns arrest of journalist covering protest in Montenegro

IPI condemns arrest of journalist covering protest in Montenegro

Authorities must ensure journalists are able to cover protests safely

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the detention of Montenegrin journalist Veliša Kadić and called on authorities to ensure media workers can cover protests freely and securely. 

Kadić, a correspondent for the Serbian media company Večernje Novosti, was detained while covering protests in the city of Nikšić that occurred on May 13 in response to the arrest of a priest belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

After being released from custody, the journalist told media he was detained while taking a cellphone video of police officers trying to restrain a young man participating in protest who was resisting arrest.

Kadić claims officers from the Montenegrin police force demanded he delete the video footage and then pepper sprayed him in the face before arresting him. During the incident, Kadić was identified as a journalist there in his professional capacity.

He was taken to a police station but required an ambulance to be called for medical assistance due to the pain from the pepper spray. Kadić was held for several hours before being released later that night.

“This is a harsh violation and censorship of journalist’s work, which is, unfortunately, only an extension of brutal behavior of public authorities towards journalists and media freedom in this country”, Milka Tadić Mijović, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Montenegro, told IPI.

The head of the Nikšić Security Center, Tihomir Goranović, said he was aware of the case and confirmed police were investigating the circumstances of the arrest and the officers involved.

The arrest exemplifies a wider trend exhibiting increased use of violence against journalists covering protests in Europe in the last few months.

“The arrest of Veliša Kadić in Montenegro is greatly concerning, especially at a moment in which we are witnessing similar incidents happening all across Europe”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We call on authorities in Montenegro to ensure that all journalists and media workers are able to work freely and inform the public about protests or demonstrations without fear of attack or detention.”

The Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) also condemned the arrest and called for action to be taken against the officers involved. 

Dozens of people were arrested as police attempted to break up the demonstration, according to Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti. Twenty-two police officers were also injured.