Demonstrators clash with police at a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on July 8, 2020. Protesters and police attacked journalists covering the protests. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Journalists attacked, harassed while covering anti-lockdown protests in Serbia

Berlin, July 9, 2020 – Serbian authorities should quickly and thoroughly investigate attacks on journalists covering anti-government protests in the country, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 7 and 8, demonstrators and police attacked at least 10 journalists who were documenting protests in Belgrade, the capital, against the Serbian government’s decision to reapply restrictions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to local news reports and SafeJournalists, a regional press freedom group.

“Serbian authorities must thoroughly investigate the attacks against journalists covering protests against the country’s COVID-19 lockdown measures, and hold the perpetrators—whether demonstrators or police officers—to account,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Journalists must be free to cover protests safely, and police must take seriously their responsibility to protect the press.”

On July 7, protesters approached two camera operators working for state news agency Tanjug, asked one why he was filming, and then hit him in the stomach, according to SafeJournalists, which did not disclose the camera operators’ names. Demonstrators then demanded the second Tanjug journalist hand over his video footage, but left when he refused to do so, according to that report. CPJ emailed Tanjug for more details on this case, but did not immediately receive any response.

Plain clothes police officers attempted to stop Jelena Zorić, a reporter for private news channel N1 TV, and Aleksandar Cvrkotić, her camera operator, from recording police officers beating a protester in the park in front of the Serbian president’s office, according to SafeJournalists and local news reports. CPJ could not immediately determine the details of that action; those reports said that Zorić was also affected by tear gas fired by police.

On July 8, Belgrade police officers hit Milica Božinović, a reporter for the news website, in the back, after she had identified herself as a journalist, according to a report by the Cenzolovka news website. Police also took the press credential of Nataša Latković, another reporter, and threw it away, according to that report.

Marko Radonjić, also a reporter, said a police officer hit him with a baton and threatened  him with arrest during the protest, regional news website Balkan Insight reported.

Also on July 8, police beat Žikica Stevanović, a reporter for the privately owned Beta News Agency, cutting him on his head and near his eye, after he had identified himself as a reporter, according to Balkan Insight and a report by the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, a local trade group, that was emailed to CPJ.

Stevanović was held overnight in a hospital, and his colleagues, camera operators Luka Predja and Relja Pekić, were also slightly injured, according to that email, which did not provide details about their injuries.

In Niš, in central Serbia, on July 8, protesters surrounded a reporter and a camera operator from the Radio Television of Serbia public broadcaster, insulted them, grabbed their microphones and camera cables, and then hit one of the journalists in the head with a bottle, according to Balkan Insight. CPJ could not immediately determine the extent of the journalists’ injuries.

CPJ emailed the Serbian Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the police, for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.