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SafeJournalists and MFRR: Physical Confrontation with Journalist in Serbia…

SafeJournalists and MFRR: Physical Confrontation with Journalist in Serbia is Unacceptable and Must be Sanctioned

 

SafeJournalists Network and the Media Freedom Rapid Response strongly condemn the behavior of the local authorities in Indjija, who forcibly removed the journalist Verica Marincic from the municipality building and prevented her from doing her job. We appeal to the competent authorities to investigate this incident in which the journalist was injured

The journalist of the In media portal from Indjija, Verica Marincic, was kicked out of the Indjija municipality building because she “wasn’t on the list” to monitor the conference regarding the residents’ protest against the abolition of the railway station. In a video published by N1 television, it is seen that a member of the security forces removed the journalist from the building using physical force.

 

Verica Marincic says that she came to see off the protest that was announced earlier, and when she saw that Indija journalists were entering the building, she followed them, but was met at the entrance by the chief of staff of the municipal president, who told her that she could not go to the conference.   

 

“I took my phone to record what he was saying to me and he grabbed my left upper arm because I had a phone in that hand and squeezed me expecting the phone to fall out of my hand. Because I didn’t want to let go, he took my phone. When he saw that it was all being recorded by a journalist from N1, then he withdrew. After that, a man from security came out and started pushing me to go outside,” stated Verica Marincic. The whole case was reported to the competent authorities.

 

The SafeJournalists Network and Media Freedom Rapid Response call on the state to urgently send a message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and to condemn this kind of behavior towards journalists. The SafeJournalists and MFRR also appeal to public officials and politicians to refrain from targeting media in Serbia, because their rhetoric encourages individuals to later threaten the media and media workers.

 

Each attack on journalists is an attack on public interest, democracy and the rights of all citizens.

Signed by:

SafeJournalists Network

 

Association of Journalists of Kosovo

 

Association of Journalists of Macedonia

 

BH Journalists Association

 

Croatian Journalists’ Association

 

Independent Journalists Association of Serbia

 

Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

 

Media Freedom Rapid Response

 

ARTICLE 19 Europe

 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

 

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

 

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

 

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

 

International Press Institute (IPI)

This statement was coordinated by the SafeJournalist Network and signed by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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International Media Freedom and Human Rights Organisations Demand Release…

International Media Freedom and Human Rights Organisations Demand Release of Journalist Dicle Müftüoğlu in Upcoming Trial

As the next hearing of journalist Dicle Müftüoğlu approaches on February 29, 2024, we call for immediate attention to her case and her unjust detention. Müftüoğlu, Co-Chair of the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFGD) , has been wrongfully held for over nine months on unsubstantiated terrorism charges in a case that starkly violates international legal standards and media freedom.

 

Turkish translation available here.

Case Overview: A Miscarriage of Justice

Müftüoğlu’s arrest occurred during a broader crackdown on Kurdish activists and politicians by the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office in April 2023. The circumstances of her detention, including her transfer to Ankara and the conditions therein, have raised serious concerns about her treatment and the respect for due process.

In court, the charges against Müftüoğlu have not been substantiated by any credible evidence. Her case is a textbook example of severe legal intimidation used to silence journalists who are critical of the government.

 

Investigative and Legal Irregularities

The investigation into Ms. Müftüoğlu’s activities has been marked by flagrant legal irregularities:

  • Restriction of access to legal counsel and investigation files.
  • Interrogation without legal representation, in clear violation of legal norms.
  • Inhumane treatment during her transfer, including prolonged handcuffing and deprivation of basic needs.

The indictment itself is deeply flawed, dedicating only a small portion to Müftüoğlu and failing to provide any substantial evidence of her involvement in terrorist activities. Instead, it inappropriately conflates her journalistic work with terrorism, using her association with the Mesopotamia News Agency and attendance at public events as supposed evidence of wrongdoing.

As the undersigned organisations we call upon the authorities in Turkey to immediately release Dicle Müftüoğlu and drop all charges against her. We call upon the international community, media freedom, journalism and human rights organisations to join us in condemning this unjust detention and to urge Turkey to uphold its commitments to media freedom and human rights.

Signed by:

  • Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA)
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)
  • Danish PEN
  • P24 Platform for Independent Journalism
  • PEN Norway
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • PEN America
  • PEN International 
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Freedom House
  • Articolo 21
  • Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

Uluslararası Basın Özgürlüğü ve İnsan Hakları Örgütleri Gazeteci Dicle Müftüoğlu’nun Bugünkü Duruşmasında Serbest Bırakılmasını Talep Ediyor

Gazeteci Dicle Müftüoğlu’nun 29 Şubat 2024 tarihinde görülecek duruşması öncesi, gazeteciye yönelik davaya  ve haksız tutukluluğuna derhal dikkat çekilmesi çağrısında bulunuyoruz. Dicle Fırat Gazeteciler Derneği (DFGD) Eş Başkanı Müftüoğlu, uluslararası hukuk standartlarını ve basın özgürlüğünü açıkça ihlal eden bir davada, temelsiz terör suçlamalarıyla dokuz ayı aşkın bir süredir haksız yere tutuklu bulunuyor. 

Davaya Genel Bakış: Bir Adalet Hatası

Müftüoğlu’nun tutuklanması, Nisan 2023’te Ankara Cumhuriyet Başsavcılığı tarafından Kürt aktivistlere ve siyasetçilere yönelik geniş çaplı operasyonlar sırasında gerçekleşti. Ankara’ya naki ve gözaltına alınma koşulları, kendisine uygulanan muameleye dair ve adil yargılama sürecine saygı konusunda ciddi endişelere yol açmıştır.

Mahkemede Müftüoğlu’na yöneltilen suçlamalar hiçbir inandırıcı kanıtla desteklenmemiştir. Müftüoğlu’nun davası, hükümeti eleştiren gazetecileri susturmak için kullanılan ağır yargısal gözdağının ders kitabı niteliğinde bir örneğidir.

Soruşturma ve Kovuşturma Sırasında Yaşanan Hukuka Aykırılıklar

Sayın Müftüoğlu’nun faaliyetlerine ilişkin soruşturmada bariz hukuki usulsüzlükler söz konusudur:

  • Avukata ve soruşturma dosyalarına erişimin kısıtlanması.
  • Yasal normları açıkça ihlal ederek yasal temsil olmadan sorgulama.
  • Nakli sırasında uzun süreli kelepçeleme ve temel ihtiyaçlardan mahrum bırakma da dahil olmak üzere insanlık dışı muamele.

İddianamenin kendisi son derece kusurludur. Müftüoğlu’na sadece küçük bir bölüm ayırmış ve terörist faaliyetlere karıştığına dair önemli bir kanıt sunmamıştır. Bunun yerine, iddianame, gazetecinin Mezopotamya Haber Ajansı ile olan ilişkisini ve kamuya açık etkinliklere katılımını sözde suç kanıtı olarak kullanarak, gazetecilik faaliyetlerini uygunsuz bir biçimde terörizmle ilişkilendiriyor.

Aşağıda imzası bulunan örgütler olarak Türkiye’deki yetkilileri Dicle Müftüoğlu’nu derhal serbest bırakmaya ve hakkındaki tüm suçlamaları düşürmeye çağırıyoruz. Uluslararası toplumu, medya özgürlüğü, gazetecilik ve insan hakları örgütlerini bu haksız tutukluluğu kınamada bize katılmaya ve Türkiye’yi medya özgürlüğü ve insan hakları konusundaki taahhütlerini yerine getirmeye çağırıyoruz.

İmzacılar

  • Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA) 
  • FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders 
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)  
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) 
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) 
  • Danish PEN 
  • P24 Platform for Independent Journalism 
  • PEN Norway 
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of
  • Human Rights Defenders 
  • PEN America 
  • PEN International  
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 
  • Freedom House 
  • Articolo 21 
  • Özgürlük İçin Hukukçular Derneği (Öhd) 
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Media in occupied Ukraine Event

Occupied Ukraine: Media reporting in the shadow of Russian…

Occupied Ukraine

Media reporting in the shadow of Russian forces

29 February, 14:30 CET.

As of February 2024, a significant proportion of Ukraine remains under occupation by Russian forces. This includes Crimea, as well as vast areas in the regions of Donbas, Zaporizhia, and Kherson. While some of these territories are under Russian control since 2014, most were torn away from Ukraine at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

 

Two years after 24 February 2022, the MFRR partners investigate what occupation means for media. How do Ukrainian journalists continue to report on regions they cannot travel to? What happened to media outlets in towns and cities now under Russian control?

 

This webinar will focus on the timeline of events with the aim of understanding the realities Ukrainian media face under Russian occupation. Starting from forced closures of media by the military, panellists will recount stories of journalists fleeing from invasion, before turning to the challenges that the current situation creates, such as the need to conduct work undercover, in the shadow of Russian forces. Perspectives for the return of free media to a future de-occupied Ukraine will also be examined.

 

To delve into these questions, the MFRR partners will be joined by several Ukrainian journalists with first-hand experience of working under Russian occupation.

Moderator

Karol Łuczka

Eastern Europe Advocacy and Monitoring Officer at the International Press Institute

Speakers

Nastya Stanko

Editor-in-chief of Slidstvo.Info

Olha Reshetylova

Coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights

Sevgil Musaieva

Editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda

Ukraine 6 month anniversary Library

2 years on, Ukrainian journalists still pay a heavy…

2 years on, Ukrainian journalists still pay a heavy price for the war

February 24 marks two years since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Today, the organizations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) reaffirm our solidarity with Ukrainian journalists and call for their safety to be ensured, full freedom to report, and a renewed effort to provide the necessary financial, technical support to continue their work.

Over the past two years Ukraine’s journalists have demonstrated incredible courage and resilience in covering the horrors of this war for their communities and the outside world, often at great personal sacrifice.

We call for continued international support for Ukrainian media to address the safety threats from Russia’s military as well as the economic crisis wrought by the war.

We repeat our demand for Russia to comply with international humanitarian law and refrain from all attacks on journalists as well as to investigate the numerous cases in which its forces are implicated in such attacks.

To date, at least 11 media workers have been killed in the line of duty while 34 more have suffered injuries covering the invasion. 

While the number of direct attacks on journalists covering the war dropped in 2023 as military activity became centered around fixed lines, journalists on the front lines continue to face great risks. At least 12 journalists were injured in 2023 covering the war.

The Ukraine War Press Freedom Tracker kept by the International Press Institute (IPI), an MFRR partner, has recorded 404 instances of attacks on media in Ukraine, the vast majority of which have been perpetrated by Russian forces or Russian occupying authorities.

Ukrainian media outlets also frequently face cyber attacks which prevent them from reporting on the war. While it is impossible to identify the sources of these attacks, Russia is frequently accused of having orchestrated them, with multiple instances recorded in which leading Ukrainian websites were hacked in order to publish pro-Russian content.

Meanwhile, at least 17 journalists who worked in occupied Ukrainian territory remain jailed by Russia as Russian authorities seek to stamp out any dissenting voices in occupied regions.

Standing up to the obvious security challenges, as well as to the tremendous economic pressure facing the media sector of a country at war, Ukrainian journalists continue not only to shed light on the war crimes committed by invading Russian forces, but also to hold their own government accountable.

 

Internal issues multiply in parallel to the war

While Russian authorities are is responsible for the majority of safety threats facing Ukrainian journalists, MFRR monitoring also shows that Ukrainian journalists increasingly face obstacles created by domestic actors as they continue their watchdog work at home.

In 2023, MFRR recorded 31 incidents in which Ukrainian authorities refused to provide information or otherwise hindered the work of journalists, in most cases using the war as an excuse.

Journalists are also being increasingly harassed and intimidated by other actors for their ‘lack of patriotism’. The leading investigative reporter, Yuri Nikolov, was recently harassed at his home by unknown persons, who then posted a video of their visit, accusing Nikolov of evading military service.

Meanwhile, persons linked to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) tried to discredit journalists at the investigative outlet Bihus.info after conducting systematic surveillance  against them. In a powerful demonstration of solidarity, Ukraine’s journalists rallied around their colleagues forcing the eventual dismissal of the senior civil servant allegedly responsible for the surveillance.  

 

The struggle continues, in Ukraine and abroad

Despite these successes, Ukrainian media remain in a dire position. The country’s advertising market has dropped by two-thirds since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, which has led to a tremendous loss of revenue.

Until stable business models again become viable, MFRR partners call on the international community and European stakeholders in particular to renew and expand its commitment to long term financial support for Ukrainian’s media.

Without ongoing support, Ukraine’s media may cease to be able to continue to inform the world about the state of the war and the sacrifices made by so many journalists will have been in vain.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Candles are placed during a march in memory of murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova. Library

Slovakia: Lack of justice for Kuciak and Kušnírová’s assassination…

Slovakia: Lack of justice for Kuciak and Kušnírová’s assassination exacerbated by growing attacks on press freedom

On the sixth anniversary of the brutal killing of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, the undersigned organisations renew our call for long-awaited justice for their killings and the imperative to break the cycle of impunity. As we remember Ján and Martina, we are alarmed by increasing threats to the rule of law and media freedom in Slovakia, in particular relating to the lack of accountability for crimes, the diminished protection of public watchdogs and the stark erosion of democratic institutions. The undersigned international organisations call on the Slovak authorities to fulfil their obligation to protect freedom of media and expression and to ensure full justice for Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová’s murders. We encourage the EU institutions to take a firm stance in order to prevent the erosion of democracy in the country.

On February 21, 2018, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were fatally shot at their home. Kuciak, known for his reporting on corruption for Aktuality.sk, had uncovered alleged corruption and tax fraud schemes involving prominent business figures with suspected ties to Prime Minister Robert Fico’s party Smer-SSD and organised crime.

The assassination shocked the country and led to the resignation of Fico and his cabinet. However, six years later, justice remains elusive for the victims’ families, while Fico is again leading the government. Despite the hitmen and intermediaries receiving lengthy prison sentences, the businessman associated with Fico’s party, Marian Kočner, accused of masterminding the crime after threatening the journalist, was twice found not guilty. Following Kocner’s second acquittal in  May 2023, the Supreme Court is now set to rule on the prosecutor’s second appeal. 

 

Risks for the prosecution of the killing

Soon after taking power again, Fico proposed significant legislative changes that threaten media freedom, rule of law and the prosecution of  Kuciak and Kušnírová’s killings.

On 8 February 2024, the Slovak parliament, where the ruling coalition holds a majority, passed in a fast-track procedure a highly contested reform of the criminal code. The amendments aim for the dissolution of the Special Prosecutor’s Office responsible for dealing with the most serious crimes and corruption cases including Kuciak and Kusnirova’s killing. The prosecutor in charge of the case, verbally attacked by Fico, has openly expressed concerns about the future of the further prosecution of those responsible for the assassination.

We reiterate that under international human rights standards, states are obligated to guarantee accountability for any violence, threats, or assaults targeting journalists by conducting impartial, swift, comprehensive, independent, and efficient investigations. UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/2 explicitly calls for the establishment of specialised investigative units to address crimes against journalists. 

The government initially proposed also a significant weakening of the whistleblower legislation but has recently announced its withdrawal.

The sweeping reform of the criminal code was pushed through despite a vast public protest with tens of thousands of people rallying on the streets and great concern expressed by the EU institutions. Previously in December, the European Commission called on the government not to fast-track the changes to the criminal code and whistleblower legislation. Raising alarm over the continuity of investigation of high-level corruption, the Commission warned Slovakia that it risked causing ‘irreparable damage‘ to the rule of law. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, responsible for investigating fraud and corruption cases involving EU funds, also cautioned that the legislative changes would ‘seriously affect’ the ability to investigate and prosecute offences under its competence effectively. The new criminal code is now being examined by the Constitutional Court based on President Zuzana Čaputová’s filing.  

 

Threats to media independence

During our fact-finding mission to Slovakia in 2023 we underscored the importance of strengthening the safety of journalists, their access to information and public media independence, all in line with the European standards.. While the police has developed its cooperation with the non-governmental safety mechanism, Safe.Journalism.sk, since its launch a year ago, the other areas unfortunately experienced no progress or even regress. The verbal attacks of Fico and his allies have fueled smear campaigns against critical media outlets. Calling four outlets hostile, the Prime Minister and the Ministers nominated by his party systematically boycott their media inquiries. 

In addition, there are growing concerns about the independence of public broadcaster. In late 2023, the parliament decreased the state funding of RTVS by a staggering 30 percent on a year-by-year basis and proposed to divide the radio and television into two separate companies. The two measures threaten the public media’s independence in the context of open attacks on RTVS and calls for the dismissal of its current leadership by Fico and Andrej Danko, chairman of a junior government party and vice-speaker of the parliament. Danko even admitted that while serving as Speaker of the National Council (2016-2020), he had granted to the previous RTVS director general, nominated by his party, the political approval to appoint a journalist as a moderator of political discussions on public television. The ruling coalition’s discourse and measures regarding RTVS are contrary to our 2022 calls for measures to enhance the public media’s independence..

Moreover, the government and parliament have taken no measures either to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs), or to allow for aggravated sentences for attacks against them, two other demands made by our 2023 mission.

Commemorating Ján Kuciak’s legacy, the undersigned organisations reiterate that combating impunity for crimes against journalists is essential for safeguarding media freedom. Full justice for Ján, Martina, and their families can only be secured when all individuals responsible for the murder are held to account – including those who orchestrated the attack.  Furthermore, we call on Prime Minister Robert Fico and the Slovak government to refrain from further actions that weaken the resilience of Slovakia’s media environment. On the contrary, the authorities must create an enabling environment for journalists and adopt effective measures to increase the safety of journalists and the independence of the media. Finally, following the critical resolution on Slovakia adopted by the European Parliament in January, we encourage EU institutions to take a firm stance to effectively prevent the erosion of democracy in the country.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

The Investigative Center of Ján Kuciak (ICJK)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Library

Montenegro: Jelena Jovanović, journalist targeted by the mafia

Montenegro: Jelena Jovanović, journalist targeted by the mafia

14/02/2024

Dealing with organised crime and risking your life, needing police protection just to be able to do your job and live your everyday life. Jelena Jovanović, journalist from the Montenegrin newspaper Vijesti, explains what it is like to live under police protection

By Vukašin Obradović

Originally published by OBCT  . Also available in ITA  and BHS 

For over two years Jelena Jovanović, a journalist for the newspaper Vijesti in Podgorica, has lived under police protection: she gets up in the morning, goes about her day and goes to sleep in the evening accompanied by the officers in charge of protecting her. Jovanović has been dealing with issues related to organised crime for years and, due to her work, she is exposed almost daily to risks that threaten her safety. Highlighting the dangers faced by those investigating corruption and organised crime go far beyond “the usual”, Jovanović explains that when a journalist comes into possession of compromising information, on politicians or on prominent members of the criminal underworld, they begin to be perceived as a threat to the interests of powerful groups and individuals involved in criminal and corrupt activities.

“From that moment – and I have experienced many throughout my career – there is no longer anything ordinary or spontaneous. As I get closer to the truth, the threats become more and more concrete and the ‘benevolent advice’ to give up leaves room for attempts to intimidate me. In recent years, it has happened several times that they also tried to stop my investigations with hateful messages on social media and attempts to criminalise and discredit my work. These situations, in my opinion, are real turning points in which the journalist, subjected to unbearable pressure, finds themselves at a crossroads: give up or continue to risk their life to uncover the truth”.

 

How much has your private and professional life changed since you received police protection?

My life has changed significantly since I was first assigned an escort towards the end of 2018. Fortunately, that first experience did not last long, unlike the current one that began in August 2021.

I have been forced to change my habits, to give up travel and often concerts, theatre performances, sporting events, mountain walks… In simple words, for almost two and a half years now I have not been able to freely go about my daily life, because for me those places are no longer safe. This says a lot about the changes that have occurred in my private and professional life.

 

Do you believe that the security services have taken all the necessary measures to protect you from those who put your life in danger?

The very fact that I am here talking to you answers your question. However, I am aware that no institution in the world can guarantee absolute protection to anyone. This is even more true for Montenegro, where dozens of police officials had close links with the criminal groups on which my investigations were focused.

For me it was devastating to read the transcripts of messages exchanged through the Sky application, where some senior police officers, whom I had previously consulted, forwarded my questions to the leaders of some criminal groups, reached an agreement with them on the answers to give me and promised that they would ‘explain’ certain things to me. In that context, ‘explain’ could have several meanings, but it certainly could not mean anything good. That experience, however, made me reflect, making me even more convinced that, in a society like the Montenegrin one, keeping quiet and keeping aloof is more dangerous than speaking openly about anomalies that we witness.

 

Does living under protection make it more difficult for you to do journalism?

It is a significant obstacle. Some sources refuse to meet me because they do not trust the police and fear that the officers tasked with protecting my physical safety are actually here to take note of my encounters. However, the work I do every day shows that somehow I manage to move forward.

 

How safe can journalists feel in Montenegro?

It is completely inappropriate to talk about the safety of journalists in a country where, twenty years after the murder of Duško Jovanović, the instigators have still not been identified, where we do not know who brutally attacked Mladen Stojović and Tufik Softić, who shot Olivera Lakić, who placed a bomb under the windows of Mihailo Jovović’s office, then chief editor of the newspaper Vijesti… In a country where clarity has never been reached on a number of attacks on journalists and assets owned by the media – a country deeply divided, so much so that even the media landscape is polarised – those who do journalism respecting the ethical rules of the profession almost daily end up in the crosshairs of various obscure structures and individuals linked to them. Instead, those who, unfortunately, continue to ridicule our beautiful profession in their articles and reports – which are anything but the search for the truth – feel safer than morally upright journalists. However, I believe that their conscience – assuming they have it – is much more tormented, because they too know that the truth is like water – sooner or later it finds its way.

 

Do you feel protected by living under police protection?

The police officers who are tasked with protecting me are well-trained professionals who I fully trust and I am infinitely grateful to always have them by my side. However, no one in the world can feel completely safe, and not even me. But I’m not afraid, and for me this is much more important than the feeling of safety or insecurity. Helping me overcome my fears are my family, friends and colleagues, but also all those good people who support my work.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Event

The true cost of journalism: Ongoing impunity cases in…

The true cost of journalism:

Ongoing impunity cases in Europe

19 February, 11:00 CET.

On 21 February 2018, journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were murdered in Veľká Mača, Slovakia. The assassination sparked mass protests and the eventual resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico. Although those who ordered and carried out the murder have been found guilty and sentenced to time in prison, the alleged mastermind was acquitted in May 2023.

 

During the latest MFRR webinar, marking the sixth anniversary of the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, panellists will discuss ongoing impunity cases for crimes against journalists in Europe with a spotlight on Slovakia, Turkey, and Serbia.

Moderator

Jasmijn de Zeeuw

Legal Advisor, Free Press Unlimited

Speakers

Massimo Moratti

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBC Transeuropa)

Barış Altıntaş

Co-Director, Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)

Lukas Diko

Editor-in-Chief, Investigative Center of Jan Kuciak

Serb Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik Library

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Recommendations to national and entity level…

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Recommendations to national and entity level authorities to improve media freedom standards

Following a fact-finding mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2023, the partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) published a report assessing the state of media freedom in three key areas: the legislative initiatives, the safety of journalists, and the public service media.

The report includes a set of recommendations to national and entity level authorities and the international community, which we believe are vital for the country’s democratic development and accession process to the European Union. We invite other media freedom and journalists’ organisations to support by adding their signatures using the button below.

Recommendations

Specific recommendations to Republika Srpska authorities

  • Immediately repeal the legislative provisions that re-criminalised defamation in Republika Srpska;
  • Discontinue all criminal cases that have been initiated on the basis of the criminal defamation law;
  • Prioritise media self-regulation in addressing defamation concerns, particularly the right of reply and correction, and ensure that civil defamation laws contain safeguards against SLAPPs and other abuses;
  • End all intimidating practices against journalists and media actors by public officials, including verbal attacks, smears, harassment and threats
  • Publicly condemn, investigate and effectively prosecute all criminal attacks on journalists and media outlets;
  • Immediately and definitively withdraw the “foreign agent” draft legislation and refrain from imposing any discriminatory regulatory requirements for civil society organisations or media based on the origin of the funding that they receive;
  • Ensure an inclusive, transparent and human rights rooted process in the drafting of the pending media law
  • End all interference with the RTRS’s editorial policy, so that journalists and editors are free to work in the interest of the public in the Republic of Srpska and apply the recommendations of the Council of Europe on the obligations of public broadcasting and the availability of accurate, objective, plural and balanced information;
  • In line with existing legislation on the Public Broadcasting System to Bosnia and Herzegovina, take appropriate steps to ensure that RTRS pays its fair and legally mandated contribution to the public broadcaster at state level BHRT.

 

Recommendations to state, entity and district authorities

  • Immediately and definitively revoke any kind of regulation of journalistic reporting or other expressions based on their perceived veracity, including ‘fake news’ regulations, at any level of government in Bosnia;
  • Ensure an inclusive, transparent, and human rights based approach in the development of any legislative initiatives that concern the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information at any level of government in Bosnia;
  • Promote proactive disclosure of government-held information and ensure a viable system of requests for information of public interest with narrowly construed exceptions and an effective appeal mechanism;
  • Refrain from promulgating regulations that obstruct media and NGO work by creating excessive administrative requirements such as onerous reporting, registration, or public disclosure rules;
  • Develop a national-level safety plan to advance media freedoms and protection of journalists, involving police and prosecutorial authorities, in cooperation with journalist associations, media groups and international organisations
  • Publicly condemn, investigate, and prosecute any and all serious physical and verbal attacks on journalists and media outlets;
  • Ensure an effective system of remedy and reparation for journalists who become victims of attacks;
  • Uphold the fundamental principle that any regulation of the media should only be undertaken by bodies which are independent of the government, which are publicly accountable, and which operate transparently;
  • Restore public trust in the media through providing support for professional and ethical reporting, especially with the introduction of media and information literacy in formal education and providing opportunities for training journalists on access to information, digital security or physical safety.
  • Guarantee long-term and sustainable financing for the national and entity level public service broadcasters under the media law and provide professional support to journalists working within public media to cope with workplace stress;
  • Guarantee editorial and institutional independence of public service media
  • Ensure adequate financing for the Communication Regulatory Agency and strengthen the body’s independence by guaranteeing independent and fair elections of its board members based on strict professional criteria and relevant experience, rather than political considerations;
  • Work with the BH Journalists Association to develop and pass national law on media ownership, including stronger regulations on the transparency beneficial ownership and the prevention of undue media concentration;
  • Implement a new law overseeing the allocation of public advertising and all other forms of state subsidies to public service, commercial, and community media on strict criteria, to ensure transparent and equitable distribution based on clear market principles rather than political affiliation;
  • Bolster independent and watchdog journalism and local media, establish a public fund for pluralistic journalism, administered on an annual basis by an independent body on a grant-basis, with a public database detailing the allocation of funding for journalistic projects on the basis of transparent, fair and neutral criteria.

 

Recommendations to the international community

  • Closely coordinate and unify positions and strategies among international organisations based in Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve media freedom and journalists’ safety;
  • Systematically stand in solidarity with attacked journalists and media outlets and support remedy and reparation options for the victims of attacks;
  • Provide deeper support to independent quality journalism in Bosnia, including through grants, training, and media literacy programmes;
  • Robustly use diplomatic leverage to uphold media freedom and freedom of expression in the country;
  • Make media freedom and freedom of expression a top priority in the EU accession negotiations.

Signed:

ARTICLE 19 Europe 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

International Press Institute (IPI)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Trade Union of Croatian Journalists

 

Individuals 

Rubina Čengić, Freelance journalist

Maja Sever, Trade Union of Croatian journalists

Ajdin Kamber, Freelance journalist

Antoinette Nikolova, Balkan Free Media Initiative

Tamara Filipovic, Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia

Špela Cvitković-Iličić, HRT

Selma Fukelj, Mediacentar Sarajevo

Antoinette Nikolova, Balkan Free Media Initiative

Velida Kulenovic, Correspondent of the Radio of BiH Federation

Máire Rowland, Coalition For Women In Journalism

Dragana Dardic, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Banjaluka

Siniša Vukelić, CAPITAL.ba

Branko Ćulibrk, Centar za mlade KVART Prijedor

Marko Divković President, BH Journalists Association

Borka Rudić, Female Journalists Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Brankica Smiljanić, Freelance journalist

Ljiljana Smiljanic, Al Jazeera Balkans

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Library

Serbia, no justice for the Ćuruvija murder

Serbia, no justice for the Ćuruvija murder

Twenty-five years after the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija and nine after the start of the trial against the four accused of the murder, after a first conviction in 2019 and the repetition of the trial, on Monday 5 February the Court of Appeal of Belgrade acquitted the defendants

07/02/2024 –  Massimo Moratti

The news came at the end of a particularly intense day on Friday: a few hours earlier, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had announced that, due to the situation in Kosovo, he would request a convocation of the United Nations Security Council. Attention was therefore focused on the events relating to Kosovo and on possible new tensions.

In this context, the news arrived that the Belgrade Court of Appeal acquitted all four defendants accused of the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija.

Ćuruvija, a journalist of great civic spirit, was killed in April 1999 after criticising the regime of Slobodan Milošević and his wife Mira Marković. At that time, Vučić was the Minister of Information.

The four defendants were very prominent figures of the Državna bezbednost (DB), the security agency of the Yugoslav Interior Ministry, heir to the infamous UDBA. Specifically, Radomir Marković was its head at the time, Milan Radonjić was head of the Belgrade department and Ratko Romić   and Miroslav Kurak were DB operatives.

The trial of the four began in 2015, thanks to the  Commission to investigate the killing of journalists in Serbia  . The Commission was created in 2013 by the Serbian government, in which Vučić was then deputy prime minister, as the result of the persistent insistence of Veran Matić, the historic editor-in-chief of B92 at the time of Milošević, who wanted to shed light on the murders of Ćuruvija, Dada Vujasinović and Milan Pantić. At the time of the start of the trial, Vučić himself had said that he would resign   if those responsible were not found.

 

A troubled trial

From the beginning, Ćuruvija’s was defined as a state murder and it was thought that the trial would confirm what everyone knew.

The trial, which began in 2015, saw around a hundred witnesses appear before the judges, although some key figures, such as Milošević’s wife Mira Marković  , believed by many to have instigated the murder, were never heard. The investigation only looked at the facilitators and material executors of the murder, without trying to find out who the instigators were, since this would most likely have led to Mira Marković and Slobodan Milošević.

Other key figures, who could have been investigated   due to their membership and the role they held at the DB, were instead heard only as witnesses. Numerous witnesses then, during the hearings, had sudden amnesia  or changed their initial versions. Over the years, it became known that the inspector who conducted the investigations had been threatened and risked his life  .

The first instance sentence was issued in 2019 and the four defendants were sentenced to over one hundred years in prison. In the second instance, however, the sentence was overturned and in September 2019 the Court of Appeal ordered the trial to be repeated. The trial was repeated starting in October 2020 and in December 2021 the Court of First Instance essentially confirmed the previous decision for the four defendants. This sentence, however, was ultimately annulled by last Friday’s acquittal.

The four are therefore considered not guilty and although in principle there is still the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court, the chances of success are decidedly slim  , as the experts have pointed out, and the acquittal of the four defendants cannot be overturned. In any case, on Monday 5 February, the prosecutor’s office made it clear that it intended to appeal to the Supreme Court.

 

An announced decision

The acquittal is a tombstone on the chances of justice in the Ćuruvija case. But it is a decision that did not come entirely unexpectedly. Although it was only announced last Friday, it seems that it had already been taken for some time.

Veran Matić himself, in the spring of last year, had implied   that the Court of Appeal had already ruled on the case of the four defendants. In September, Matić himself and the Ćuruvija Foundation   had written that in fact the sentence had already been issued and that the Court had acquitted the four defendants. This despite the fact that the sentence had not yet been published, as they were waiting for the most appropriate moment to make it public  . The same invitation to publish the sentence was then reiterated by the  Ćuruvija Foundation in November   last year.

The authorities gave no explanation as to why the publication of the ruling was delayed for so many months. It is possible that the street protests against the government and the heated electoral climate were the elements that recommended delaying the publication of the sentence, so as not to further exacerbate tensions.

 

The reactions and protests

Despite the content of the sentence having been widely anticipated and the fact that the news was communicated just before the weekend, the acquittal decision still caused quite a stir in Serbia.

Perica Gunjić of the Ćuruvija Foundation   is lapidary: “The decision is scandalous and represents a defeat not only for journalists and freedom of the press, but for the entire independence of the judicial system and for the democratisation process itself”.

Regarding the trial, Gunjić comments that “the court during the entire trial made many strange decisions, which indicated that something was wrong. The two first instance decisions were written in an approximate manner, as if there was the intention to have them annulled in the second instance”. This decision, concludes Gunjić, represents an “immediate return to the 90s, to the darkest period of the new history of Serbia, to the times of wars, to the times of Slobodan Milošević”.

Matić then commented that both the political will and the role of the institutions have failed, especially as regards the judicial sector, which in fact remains anchored to the 1990s.

Matić himself then commented that in the next few days he will discuss the future of the commission investigating the killing of journalists and whether it still makes sense for it to exist. The European Union, OSCE and numerous other members of the diplomatic community expressed their disappointment at the acquittal.

Furthermore, on Monday 5 February, a protest was held in front of the Court of Appeal in Belgrade, organised by journalists’ associations: the demonstrators were silent for 25 minutes in front of the Court, symbolising 25 years of silence since the Ćuruvija murder.

 

The reactions of the judicial and political world

On Monday 5, the President of the Court of Appeal of Belgrade published a statement   in which, while he understands the dissatisfaction of Ćuruvija’s family and friends, he specified that the Court judged on the basis of the evidence contained in the case which was not sufficient to support the prosecution’s thesis.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said she could not comment on the Court’s decision as the judiciary is independent. Brnabić stressed how the proceedings had only begun 16 years after the assassination, thanks to Vučić’s coming to power. As a citizen, however, she said she will seek justice.

The Minister of Justice, Maja Popović, however, said she was deeply disappointed   by the decision of the Court of Appeal, saying that the judicial system had not carried out its function. Vučić himself said late in the evening of February 5 that he was shocked by the decision, which is a great injustice and a terribly serious matter for the country.

The predominant feeling among those who followed the trial is one of anger and helplessness, but at the same time there is a dark awareness that the forces that dominated Serbia during the 1990s are still at work, as pointed out by Jelena Ćuruvija, the daughter of the murdered journalist  .

Symbolically, the day after the acquittal, early in the morning on the pro-government television Pink, Aleksandar Vulin, former director of the BIA – the the agency that replaced the DB – and former leading member of Mira Marković’s party in the 1990s, openly declared that his generation’s task is to bring together all Serbs wherever they live   and that this process has already begun and cannot be stopped.

These words closely echo the idea of Greater Serbia and bring the 1990s back to mind.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Slavko Ćuruvija. Photo by Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation / Predrag Mitić Library

Serbia: Court of Appeals acquits suspects of journalist Slavko…

Serbia: Court of Appeals acquits suspects of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija’s murder

On Friday 2nd February 2024, the Belgrade Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Special Department for Organized Crime of the High Court in Belgrade, and acquitted the four suspects for the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija. This disappointing development constitutes a grave backslide to the fight against impunity and further undermines journalists’ safety.

This final decision comes 25 years after the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija, who was shot dead outside his apartment in Belgrade on 11th April 1999. First convicted in 2019, the Court of Appeals confirmed the guilty verdicts in  2020  of the four former members of the State Security Service (SBD), Radomir Marković, Milan Radonjić, Miroslav Kurak and Ratko Romić. A retrial started in 2022 following additional information related to the facts of the accusation.  The final hearing of the retrial was held in March 2023 and its verdict was only made public last Friday. The Court confirmed the decision of the second instance court and acquitted the defendants due to lack of reliable evidence. This decision is final and cannot be reversed. 

 

The Media Freedom Rapid Response partners strongly denounce the Court’s decision and ultimately the lack of justice rendered for the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija. This verdict reinforces an existing climate of hostility against journalists in Serbia, often singled out for their work and targets of harassment and pressure. Further, this decision fails to send a clear message that attacks and violations of journalists’ safety and rights will not be tolerated and will be strongly addressed by the State. Finally, it casts a shadow over the investigations of the killings of two other journalists in Serbia, Milan Pantić in 2001 and Dada Vujasinović in 1994, whose cases still remain unresolved. 

 

We call on the international community to strongly condemn  the lack of accountability in solving Ćuruvija’s case and bring justice to his family. We also urge the Serbian State to ensure justice for the killings of journalists Pantić and Vujasinović, and commit to ensuring a safe climate for all journalists in Serbia.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19 Europe 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

SafeJournalists Network

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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