SERBIA: SEEMO requests country-wide protection for Serbian journalist

SERBIA, 23/09/2012

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), observes with preoccupation the continuous threats against the journalist Vladimir Mitric, correspondent of the Belgrade-based daily Vecernje Novosti in Loznica, western Serbia.

Vladimir Mitric was threatened again in spite of having 24-hour police protection. The veteran journalist specialises in uncovering corruption in western Serbia and Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been under police protection since October 2005, after being severely beaten by a former policemen. Six years after that incident, the aggressor was convicted by the Court of Appeals in Belgrade and sentenced to one year in prison. Loznica court sentenced the aggressor to one month.

The latest threat against Mitric occurred on 15 September 2012.  While sitting in a café in the village of Trsic, near Loznica, Mitric was approached by an individual and warned that he should stop writing about certain political figures. He was insulted several times and allegedly told that he must be a bad man if he needed police protection. Mitric did not ask the policeman who was accompanying him to intervene and opted for leaving the premises. On the road to Loznica, Mitric and the accompanying policeman entered another café, when another policeman, previously in charge of protecting Mitric, made a call and asked where they were sitting. As soon as he learnt where the two men were having coffee, the policeman arrived accompanied by the aggressor from the previous café and they both accused Mitric over what he has written. The policemen said that Mitric was responsible for his career problems. The café owner tried to calm the situation down and was hit by the individual who initially threatened Mitric.

Threats against Mitric who has been working for Vecernje Novosti since 1996 started 10 years ago. Between 2003 and 2005, the reporter’s car was destroyed three times and the police did not find any perpetrators. In 2005, he was beaten with a baseball bat and suffered numerous fractures. Soon after the aggression, he was assigned police protection but only within the radius of approximately 50 kilometers of his hometown. In other words, if he travels to Belgrade, for work or medical treatment, he does not have any protection.

In June 2011, as SEEMO reported, two civilians approached Mitric in Bijeljina (Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and threatened to come to his hometown and kill him. In addition, Mitric claims to have received numerous verbal threats and letters but did not report them. Recently, SEEMO learnt, a senior police officer told Mitric that he was lucky to have police protection, considering the topics he writes about.

While SEEMO welcomes the decision to provide Vladimir Mitric with police protection, SEEMO believes that protection should cover the whole of Serbia, rather than only one county.

“I request Serbia’s police authorities to extend police protection for Vladimir Mitric and include the territory of the entire country,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic. “While I would prefer that no journalist need protection, I do welcome the protection when the police believe that reporters’ lives are in danger. In fact, there are several journalists in Serbia in this situation but only Mitric is protected only in one county.  I think that his protection should be extended and that Mitric should feel safe to live and work in his country.”

Vujovic added: “I hope that police in Loznica investigate the latest threats against Mitric and bring the perpetrator to justice.”

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