Human Rights Defenders Made Scape Goats in Serbian Media

Freedom of the media in Serbia has seen a significant change in its trajectory since 2010, from being categorised by many watchdog organisations as being “on a good path to becoming free and independent” to the current situation of instability. There is now an almost total collapse in freedom of expression with media outlets spewing out propaganda targeting human rights defenders regarding trumped up allegations of destabilising the state.

For almost two years human rights defenders have come under constant attack by the largely pro-government media. Although formally private, these media outlets have strongly followed official state policy and in the latest series of front page articles and TV shows, human rights defenders have been demonised while their work has also come under increasing scrutiny.

Critical voices have been being depicted throughout the media as attacks against public officials, who question the stability of the Government and who are endangering the lives of the Prime Minister and his family.

The latest campaign has attempted to demonstrate that funds provided to human rights and media organisations from foreign foundations, governments and embassies are being used against the Serbian government in order to create a state of chaos in the country. Even more worrying is the fact that some public officials are supporting these claims in their statements

“It is unacceptable that in an EU-candidate country that the rhetoric used against human rights defenders is attempting to stigmatise them as criminals, working for foreign interests with the sole aim of destabilising Serbia”, said Goran Miletic, Programme Director for the Western Balkans.

This biased information is confusing and scaring people. Those human rights defenders who are accused of acts against the state are deprived of their rights especially protection from propaganda and hate speech as their faces appear on TV shows and news papers where they are protrayed as criminals trying to destabilise the country. An atmosphere has been created where those accused are in fear of attacks or reprisals.

“In this type of atmosphere any organisation working on investigating corruption, accountability of state mechanisms or cases of discrimination against minority groups are automatically blacklisted and their work and findings made null and void” added Goran Miletic.

Civil Rights Defenders condemns these media attacks on human rights defenders and calls for an immediate halt to these spurious statements which are endangering the lives of human rights defenders but also shrinking the space in which they operate. Many of the accused are Civil Rights Defenders partners in Serbia. We strongly demand that the Serbian government assures the conditions where freedom of expression is fully guaranteed and above all to protect human rights defenders from hate speech and propaganda in Serbia.