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Serbia: Repression Against Human Rights Defenders

Tuesday 22 May 2018, by siawi3

Source: Zene u crnom

WiB Belgrade: Repression Against Human Rights Defenders

Mon, 21 May 2018 16:20:51 +0200

Repression Against Human Rights Defenders

January 2018 - April 2018.

Dossier no. 11

Women in Black are an activist group and a network of feminist-antimilitaristic orientation, made up of women of different generational and ethnic backgrounds, educational levels, social status, lifestyles and sexual choices. Women in Black were founded on October 9th, 1991 in Belgrade.

Since the beginning of Women in Black (1991), they face various forms of repression, both by state and non-state actors.

Due to the escalation of repression against activists of Women in Black at the beginning of 2014, Women in Black began to compile Dossiers that deal with attacks on activists in an analytical and systematic way. Dossier no. 11 deals with developments in the period from January 2018 to April 2018.

In the first part of this file we deal with actual attacks, as well as the development of the situation regarding the previous attacks in the mentioned period. In the second part we will look at the current political and social context in Serbia.

Photo: Threat messages on the office door of Women in Black

On the night of 22nd/23rd February 2018, members of the ultra right-wing
organization “Zavetnici” placed on the premises of several NGOs posters on
which it was written: Foreign agents - closed from March 4th - Closed from
March 4th - Zavetnici. The entrance door of Women in Black office was also
covered with these posters. The police came and made an investigation. At
the request of the police, Women in Black March 5th 2018 delivered a video
clip from a security camera showing two people who were placing threat- ening messages on the Women in Black office door. After that we did not
get any information from the police.

On March on 26th, 2018 we officially requested from the Police to in- form us about the undertaken actions to detect the perpetrators, but at the time of writing this Dossier we did not receive any answer.1

We remind you that local elections were held in Belgrade on March 4th, 2018. The ultranationalist organization “Zavetnici” also took part in the elec- tions. This organization was previously known for attacks on human rights
defenders and NGO’s. The organization has great support from the state
structures of Russia, and also the support of the authorities in Serbia.2 Al- though they regularly participating in the elections, they never received
more than 0.7% of the vote. Despite these poor results, their presence in
pro-government media is significant, and this media space, they used al- most exclusively for attacks on human rights organizations that are critical
on the Government. It is also evident from their actions, that they have sig- nificant financial resources, but the sources of money are not known. As a
main goal in the campaign in the local elections, they emphasized the ban
of human rights organizations, because “they are traitors and foreign mer- cenaries, financed by Soros, who are working against the Serbian people.”

The interruption of the screening of the movie “Kosovo Gezuar / Nazdravlje”

On March 29th 2018 in the Dom omladine, Belgrade within the “March Documentary Film Festival”, a screening of the film “Kosovo Gezuar / Nazdravlje” was held. This movie is about the friendship of Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.3

The screening of the film was also attended by few activists of Women in Black. After the start of the screening, the members of “Zavetnici” organization entered the cinema and stood in front of the cinema screen and raised their posters and banners, yelling and threatening the audience and preventing viewers from watching the movie. After a few minutes, the police came, and these people left the cinema.4

At the moment when this was happening, a friend of the Women in Black activist T.P. started feeling bad, under the influence of stress and she left the cinema looking for fresh air. She was accompanied by T.P. . The group of
persons who were obviously part of the group that participated in the interruption of the screening threatened and insulted T.P. in front of the cinema.5

Women in Black on April 13th, 2018 pressed charges against two persons identified as members and officials of the “Zavetnici” organization, as well as several other N.N. persons who participated in this event.6

Also, on the basis of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Interest, we sent a request on April 13th, 2018, to the Police, to provide us with a police report (official note) on the mentioned event.7

At the time of writing of this Dossier, we still have not received any response.

Threats of Vojislav Seselj at the Special Court for War Crimes

On March 30th 2018 a hearing was held at the Special Court for War Crimes in Belgrade in the proceedings against members of the Army of Republika Srpska for war crimes, the killing of 1303 Bosniak civilians, killed in Kravica in July 1995 during the genocide in Srebrenica. Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, was also present at this hearing, accompanied by about twenty supporters.

In the space for the audience, Seselj and his supporters occupied all front rows and the families of victims and journalists were pushed back. The trial was late, so Seselj used the opportunity to threaten the Women in Black and their representative, Stasa Zajovic, saying: “She was supposed to be killed on the day she was born. ”Seselj then shouted,“ Is there anyone from Women
in Black in the audience, so we can change them to blue” (In Serbian slang expression “make someone blue” means to beat someone). Since it was previously announced that this hearing will be closed to the public, there were no Women in Black representatives in the courtroom, and Jelena Diković, a journalist from daily newspaper Danas, expressed her solidarity, saying that she is from Women in Black, and all the Seselj’s supporters turned to her. Seselj asked for her name and when she replied, the Seselj told his fellow party members: “Write it down, Jelena Dikovic, so we can turn her into blue.”8

Despite this behavior, which took place in the presence of families of victims, the court security did not respond.

Attacks in the media

Attacks in the media under the control of the government are continued, on
daily basis. As an example we will mention the attacks in daily newspapers
Alo, Srpski Telegraf and Informer on March 20th, 2018 . On the previous day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promoted a new policy for increasing birth rate, during his speech, he used misogynist and racist terminology, and put the problem of negative population growth rate into the context of possible new armed conflicts, by saying: “we will not have enough people for one brigade”. Women in Black, together with other organizations and groups, responded with the statement “We will not give birth for a state, nation, church or army...” pointing out the inadequacy of Vucic’s exposure. A day after that, on the cover of the daily newspaper Alo, the article was pub- lished under the title: “BECAUSE OF MEASURES TO PREVENT THE NEGATIVE POPULATION GROWTH RATE IN SERBIA” Women in Black attacked Vucic!”

The essence of the article is reflected in the following quotation: “It is well
known that” Women in Black “and similar organizations have always been
against everything that was patriotic, but this time they were bothered by
the very idea that something could be done so that our cities do not remain
empty. The coordinated action of these NGOs with the opposition, says that
their goal is to demolish the plan of the President and the Government of
Serbia for helping mothers and families.“9

“We Remember - 26 Years From the Beginning of the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina” - the obstruction of the event on April 6th, 2018

On April 6th 2018 Women in Black organized a street action, to commemorate the 26th anniversary from the beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Upon our arrival at the venue, we noticed Simo Spasic from the Association of Families of the Kidnapped and Killed in Kosovo.

He himself stood some 30m away from where we planned to hold our action. At the place where he stood, he spread a large canvas. Upon our arrival and the beginning of our action, Simo Spasic came to us and spoke to the participants of the gather- ing through the loudspeaker all the time, telling them insults and defamations. He also addressed citizens who were passing
by, saying “look at these traitors, these are foreign mercenaries,” and so on. Participants of the event organized by “Women in Black” stood by holding banners, while on the ground a canvas with messages was laid.

For all the time Spasic was standing directly in front of the “Woman in Black” activists on a one meter distance, sometimes even closer, and he was shouting loudly in the megaphone. He also put his banner in front of the activists of “Woman in Black”, partly covering Women in black banner . After unsuccessfully addressing to Simo Spasic to stop such a behavior, some twenty minutes later Women in Black activists moved 30m away to continue with the street action. Simo Spasic followed them and stood again in front of them, and continue with the same behavior. Shortly thereafter, Women in
Black activists, unable to continue with the street action decided to leave.10

This event was held in the presence of a number of police officers, partly in uniforms, and partly in plain clothes. From the very beginning and the moment when Simo Spasić began his actions, we addressed the pres- ent police officer who was in charge, and asked from him to enable normal conditions for our street action.

We were told by him that he had consulted his superior and that he he was told not to react.

Police officers violated the law, by refusing to react on obvious breach of law, particularly Law on Public Gatherings and article 151 of Criminal Code, although they were repeatedly warned.

Because of these circumstances, Women in Black on April 20th 2018 filed an appeal to the police.11

Informer case - Women in Black appeal rejected

In the proceedings against the owner and editor-in-chief of Informer, Dragan Vucicevic, on the apeeal of Women in Black, the High Court in Belgrade on March 8th, 2018 rejected the apeeal as unfounded.12 From the confusing explanation of Judge Slobodan Keranovic’s verdict, there were no clear reasons for rejecting the claim. Although the court found that this were false information, aimed at violating the reputation of the Women in Black and “creating intolerance in society for this organization and its activists, and provoking hostility and violence against this group.” Wrongly and narrowly interpreting the law, Judge Keranovic rejected the claim as unfounded. On April 4th 2018 an appeal was submit against this decision due to substantial violations of litigation procedure, erroneous and incompletely established factual situation and incor- rect application of law.13

We want to add that at the hearing held on March 8th, 2018, testimony was given by the defendant Dragan Vucicevic and while giving the testimony, he made numerous insults and defamations on the account of Women in Black. Among other things: “Women in Black are an anti-Serb organization – everyone knows that, like that today is March 8th. They accuse Serbia of genocide, advocates Serbia to condemned genocide in Srebrenica. They received huge donations from foreigners for this, and this is not an insult, but facts. They received most out of all foreign mercenaries, although donations are in line with the law. Their main and only job is to accuse Serbia of alleged genocide in Srebrenica. Their basic activity, and almost the only job is to invent genocide“ etc. The defendant also stated that “the organization Women in Black should be expelled from Serbia”.

Judge Keranović did not react, although it was clear that the term “expelled” was used in terms of physical expulsion, Judge Keranović understood this statement of the defendant as a call to ban the work of the organization.


1 Dopis od 26.03.2018.




5 T.P. Statement 30.03.2018.

6 Prekršajna prijava od 13.04.2018.

7 Zahtev za pristup informaciji od javnog značaja od 13.04.2018.




11 Žalba na rad policije od 20.04.2018.

12 Presuda Višeg suda u Beogradu 472/16 od 08.03.2018.

13 Žalba na Presudu Višeg suda u Beogradu 472/16 od 04.04.2018.