New York, December 12, 2018--Serbian authorities must ensure the safety and well-being of investigative journalist Milan Jovanović and bring those responsible for today's arson attack on his property to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The house of Jovanović, a reporter for the independent news website Žig Info, was set ablaze in the Belgrade suburb of Vrčin when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through his garage window early this morning; unidentified persons fired shots at his front door to prevent the family from leaving the house, local and regional media reported. Jovanović and his wife were able to escape through the back window and watched as their entire property, including a car, burned down, the reports said.
Police said they launched investigation into the attack and confirmed to Cenzolovka, a website that tracks media violations, that a bullet shell was found at the site.
"We call on the Serbian authorities to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the arson attack on investigative reporter Milan Jovanović, and to consider his reporting as a likely motive," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. "Jovanović's work serves the public interest, and his safety and well-being must be ensured."
According to his employer, Jovanović has reported on the "suddenly acquired property" of the head of the local Grocka municipality, as well as alleging corruption in the construction of sewage systems, after which local authorities cut down his water supply. The journalist has filed several complaints to the police and written two letters to Serbian President Aleksander Vučić asking him to intervene and ensure he can work without fear of reprisal, according to Cenzolovka.
Žig Info editor Zeljko Matorcevic said that he was beaten in October, after reporting about the municipality's activities regarding gasification, according to a local news report. He also said that he and Jovanović received threats in July, after their reports on alleged misconduct in the municipality were published, according to the report. "We have informed prosecution office, but did not get any reaction so far," independent online news agency IBNA quoted him as saying.
Jovanović told Cenzolovka that he did not doubt the motive behind the arson was his work, and said, "I will not stop writing about the thieves and the mob even if they kill me."
After the arson attack, neighbors drove the journalist and his wife to the hospital in Vrčin where he received first aid for minor injuries he suffered during the fire, according to news reports.