March 4, 2008
His Excellency Boris Tadic
President of the Republic of Serbia
Via facsimile: +381 (11) 303 0868, + 381 (11) 362 0676
Dear Mr. President,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the recent attacks on the Belgrade-based independent broadcaster B92 and its founder, Veran Matic. The attacks started in the wake of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on February 17–culminating in the siege of the station by angry protesters on February 21–and have continued since.
Death threats containing explicit slurs have been issued against the broadcaster and there have been open threats to burn B92’s building.
As a nonpartisan, international organization that defends journalists’ right to report the news without fear of harassment, we call on you to ensure the safety of our colleagues at B92. We ask that you urge the authorities to investigate the attacks in a timely, efficient, and thorough manner.
We are disturbed by statements made by high-ranking government officials such as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, who have effectively condoned the violence following Kosovo’s secession from Serbia as an act of patriotism. Journalists interviewed by CPJ say the mob that attacked B92 was inspired by such statements.
At this crucial political moment when tensions are running high, we ask you to address the issue with Ministers Kostunica and Ilic. We would also like to urge you to publicly condemn the threats against B92 and its founder, editor in chief, and CEO Veran Matic.
Vulgar threats e-mailed to Matic call him a fascist and a traitor to Serbia, and blame Kosovo’s secession on B92 alone. One e-mail message to Matic calls him a fascist and says: “I’ve found out where you live and I’ll kill you soon.” Another reads, in part: “You’ll get a bullet in your head if you continue to degrade the Serbian State. You’ll end up like stinky [assassinated Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic … I hope you’ll come to your senses after those warnings, because not even America can protect you.” A third e-mail says: “Burn in hell if you don’t get incinerated in your television when it’s set on fire.” Matic told CPJ yesterday that the threats continue flooding in.
A graphic video appeared on YouTube on February 17, showing the mock execution by a sniper of two prime-time B92 television anchors. The video was briefly removed from YouTube but reappeared on March 1; it was taken down again today. The video opened with dramatic music and an image of a stormy sky. A message ran across the screen: “Dark clouds are over Serbia! There is only one cause to it.” Then, the picture switched to B92’s television studio and proceeded with the on-screen killing of the journalists.
On February 21, a huge rally in Belgrade to protest Kosovo’s secession from Serbia turned violent, with part of the crowd marching to the B92 building around 6 p.m., besieging it and trapping the journalists inside. The protesters accused the station of pro-Western bias and called the staff “traitors of Serbia,” Sasa Mirkovic, director of external relations at B92, told CPJ.
Matic told CPJ he had to send several appeals to the Ministry of the Interior before it sent enough police reinforcements to guard the building. The siege lasted several hours; staff was still at the building at around midnight when CPJ spoke with Mirkovic. Earlier that day, B92 had received an anonymous bomb threat by e-mail and the staff was evacuated from the premises, Slobodan Kremenjak, B92’s legal advisor told CPJ.
Matic has been reporting the ongoing threats regularly to Belgrade police and prosecutors. However, law enforcement authorities have made no arrests yet. The station is guarded by police, with a minimum of five officers and a maximum of 20 at times. In addition, the station has stepped up its own security, Matic told CPJ, by hiring a private security firm to ensure journalists are protected within the building, but they remain at risk regardless. “It is very hard to walk the city streets,” Matic told CPJ. “I have to put up with verbal threats and swear words as soon as I venture out.”
B92 has continued to broadcast without censoring itself. As a result, its journalists have continued to work under threat. For instance, on February 26, when B92 was reporting on a protest at a checkpoint near the town of Medvedja, along with other media outlets, an angry group of protesters started inquiring specifically about B92’s television crew, the Belgrade daily Blic reported. The B92 crew had to remove the station’s label from their camera to avoid a fight as colleagues from other media outlets present managed to persuade the protesters that there were no B92 journalists there.
The embattled independent broadcaster B92 has a long history of struggle and survival. Since its inception in 1989, authorities have forced it off the air four times; the station and its journalists have endured multiple mob attacks, bomb threats, actual bombs being planted, beatings, and threats. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Yet, the station has persevered.
Though sentiments following Kosovo’s declaration of independence are raw, there is no excuse or justification for terrorizing a station that has done nothing but its job. You and your government have a responsibility to protect all of Serbia’s journalists, including those whose editorial stance is in opposition with your personal views or that of the state. We call on you to draw on all resources available to your high office to protect B92. We also call on you to ensure that Serbia’s law enforcement work to apprehend those responsible for the siege, storming attempt, and death threats against B92 and its head, Veran Matic, and hold them responsible to the full extent of the law.
Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter. We await your response.