The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), condemns a court decision to reject charges against six people who allegedly threatened to murder Serbian journalist Brankica Stankovic – a reporter for B92 TV programme “Insajder”(“Insider”).
Stankovic and her team of investigative reporters have received several death threats while reporting on the activities of the leaders of extremist football fan clubs – which led to a law suit followed by media throughout the country.
According to information received by SEEMO, on 22 April 2010 the Serbian Court of First Instance rejected all charges against the six persons, saying the matter was private. This meant that the court regarded the matter as one involving an insult, rather than a death threat – even though it is publicly known that the persons chanted to Stankovic that she “is a dangerous snake and will end up like Curuvija (a Serbian journalist who was shot in front of his apartment and whose killers were never found).” The six have now been released.
“The court verdict and the release of these persons have triggered a chain reaction of disbelief throughout all Serbian media,” said SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic.
He added: “The court verdict is a negative example of the Serbian court system and can now only be a motivation for those who want to continue attacking journalists in Serbia, since clearly journalists are not protected enough. Verbal threats are dangerous, especially if they come from organised groups such as the extremist football fans, and should not be underestimated. It is worrying that, on the one hand, Stankovic receives police protection as her life may be in danger, but, on the other hand, the Serbian Court of First Instance decides otherwise and sees the threats that were made as a private insult and not a death threat. The release of the people allegedly involved spreads fear amongst journalists who work on investigative stories. SEEMO is very alarmed that the court has taken a step that endangers independent reporting, investigative journalism and press freedom in Serbia.”
SEEMO welcomes the professional work of the Serbian police, who arrested those involved and offered police protection to Stankovic. SEEMO also welcomes the announcement by Tomo Zoric, spokesman of the Prosecutor’s Office, and Slobodan Homen, State Secretary of Justice, who intend to appeal against the court ruling. SEEMO fully supports the reactions of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) and the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS).