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A cyclist rides on the bank of Sava river in Belgrade, Serbia, on October 21, 2017. A journalist who had been reported missing was found unharmed on June 15, 2018. (Reuters/Radu Sigheti)

Serbian government accuses journalist of false reporting abduction

June 25, 2018 6:08 PM ET

On June 15, 2018--Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced on June 15 that freelance journalist Stefan Cvetković was found unharmed. Local news outlets had reported, citing police and witnesses, that he went missing on the evening of June 13 in the town of Bela Crkva, some 100 kilometers east of the capital, Belgrade.

According to the reports, the car used by Cvetković, which belonged to his father, was found on June 14 parked with the doors open and the engine and lights on in a street in Bela Crkva in Vojvodina, the northern province of Serbia. The journalist's watch was found with the band broken next to the car, and his known mobile phones were turned off. Police launched an intensive search for him, according to the reports.

In announcing Cvetković had been found, Vučić also said that the police would interrogate the journalist, who had "a lot to explain," Reuters reported.

Authorities in Vojvodina on June 19 said they had filed a criminal complaint against Cvetković for allegedly falsely reporting his own abduction, according to regional news website Balkan Insight.

On the same day, Cvetković held a press conference in which he gave an account of the alleged abduction. According to news reports recounting the press conference, Cvetković said three plainclothes men stopped his car, pulled him out, and put him in another car. He said he did not resist after one of the men showed a badge that looked similar to a police badge. The men then covered the journalist's head with a hat and drove him to a place where he spent several hours, Cvetković told the press conference. One of the men asked him, "Are you aware of what you are doing?" but did not elaborate, he said.

The journalist said the men then drove him to Bela Crkva and left him, and he was able to find a phone and call an acquaintance who is a police officer, the reports said.

Cvetković called for an independent international investigation into the incident. He said that for evidence, he was ready to produce the hat used during the alleged kidnapping for a DNA test, according to the news reports. He said he refused to give the hat to the police.

At the time of his disappearance, Cvetković was investigating the January 2018 murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović, who was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in North Mitrovica, Kosovo.

Cvetković has been subject of death threats, attacks, and legal action in the past. In 2007, he received two anonymous phone calls from an unidentified number when he was editor-in-chief of the independent radio-television station TNT in the city of Bela Crkva, CPJ reported. In 2008, he was attacked by an individual while having dinner in a restaurant in Bela Crkva. Cvetković said the attack was related to a past report aired on his TV station, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) reported. In 2015, unknown perpetrators destroyed his car, according to another report by SEEMO. According to Balkan Insight, Cvetković in March 2017 was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, after officials from Serbia's governing Progressive Party filed complaints; the High Court annulled the ruling in the Serbian town of Pancevo in April 2018.

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