Serbian tabloids mark targets

A tabloid newspaper announced some public figures as targets. Shots were heard in front of the B92 building the same evening.

Source: B92

After last night’s "Utisak Nedelje" (“Impression of the Week”), as Nataša Kandić, Humanitarian Law Center executive director, was leaving, three shots were heard in front of the B92 building. No one was injured in the incident. The police say the sound came from exploding firecrackers.

B92 Editor-in-Chief Veran Matić says this constitutes for a very serious incident, bearing in mind Nataša Kandić, Biljana Kovačević Vučo and Sonja Biserko were marked as targets only yesterday.

“This is a serious incident, a serious warning, spreading of fear and a breach of security. And when you look at today’s Kurir, where Siniša Vučinić announces Nataša Kandić, Biljana Kovačević Vučo and Sonja Biserko are targets and their lives may be in danger, you realize it is of exceptional importance that the police react in the most serious manner.”

Rajko Danilović, an attorney, told Radion B92 today that this is the first time he had heard of high – risk TV shows. “Where do we live? There are high-risk TV shows, where different opinions are aired? That means there is no other opinion but the official one. This dictatorship is more serious than the one ruled by Milošević. Back then we at least resisted it, and now we sit and listen to people telling fairytales, while all the time we are at stake”, Danilović said.

NGO activists have received threats on several occasions during the past couple of years, and the tabloids made sure to relay the irresponsible statements to the public. Hate speech and calls to lynch are punishable under the Law on Information.

Since Milošević’s government was overthrown in 2000, several dozen tabloid newspapers have been established in Serbia. None of the subsequent governments has researched or discovered the origin of the money that helped establish them. It was only in the wake of Prime Minister Zoran Điniđić’s assassination that Identitet, a Belgrade-based tabloid was banned, after it was discovered it was financed by the leaders of the Zemun Clan. During Operation Saber another tabloid was banned: Nacional, for publishing content that was false and created an atmosphere of lynch.

Soon after the two papers were banned, a host of new tabloids sprung up, including Kurir, Centar, Balkan, Internacional and Srpski nacional. The Ministry of Culture is in charge of issuing printed media with permits to operate.

Talk show followed by incident

Gunfire or firecrackers were heard around 11:30 p.m., while Utisak Nedelje talk show host Olja Bećković and her guest in the program Svetozar Stojanović, member of the Broadcasting agency, were standing in the street. Olja Bećković says Nataša Kandić’s cab arrived first. “As she was getting in the cab and closed the door, three shots were heard clearly. I must admit she probably heard nothing, while Stojanović and I did not understand what had happened. It was clear the shots were meant for her and were no coincidence, and I think those were firecrackers”, she says.

Police inspectors in front of the building reacted after the incident, running toward the direction of the shots. “We were told those were plain clothes policemen who were there because the program was marked as a high-risk event, so they were there to stop anything from going wrong”, Bećković said.

Police spokeswoman Dragana Kajganić told B92 that the incident involved a firecracker thrown from one of the surrounding buildings. “The police officers were there due to an increased level of risk the program brought with it and have ascertained this was a firecracker. These are experienced policemen, who can tell a firecracker from a gun shot”.

An attempt to intimidate

B92 has communicated that even if the shots heard did not originate from firearms, the incident still represents an attempt to intimidate guests, journalists and editors of this media outlet, at the same time an attempt to stifle free speech and freedom of expression. Freedom to publish and disseminate information and differing opinions represent the foundation of any democratic society.

We consider the intimidation of those who think differently absolutely unacceptable. Therefore B92 will demand that the authorities conduct a detailed investigation into yesterday’s incident. B92 Editor-in-Chief Veran Matić said the policemen did neither returned nor collected statements, nor did they review any of the footage from the security cameras.

The Social Democratic Union (SDU) believes the threats and lynch- calls against human rights NGO activists raise the question of whether we are witnessing a return to the environment of Milošević’s rule.  

“Intimidation, if not worse, directed at Nataša Kandić, and the statement by the so-called Chetnik duke Siniša Vučinić, announcing the murder of Sonja Biserko, Biljana Kovacević-Vučo and Nataša Kandić, show that many roads in this country lead in the wrong direction”, the SDU states and calls on the Prosecution to reacts urgently and clearly answer the question: can death-threats be printed in the media with impunity?

“A host of the so-called renowned analysts are subjecting anyone who attempts to criticize the current government to lynch, which indicates these threats originate from the circle close to Vojislav Koštunica’s government”, the SDU claims.

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