Serbia to Investigate Violence and Police Conduct During Peaceful Protests

Serbia’s authorities must immediately investigate the violence and police misconduct during protests which took place across the country on Saturday.

Environmental organisations and groups protesting the recent adoption of a controversial land expropriation law and related changes to the Law on Referendums, announced a nationwide blockade of roads and bridges for one hour on Saturday afternoon. Videos widely circulated appear to show police officers using excessive force against peaceful protestors in Belgrade and other cities.

Most distressingly, in the city of Sabac, dozens of masked thugs attacked protestors with poles and hammers, and used a bulldozer to forcibly disperse them. Moments before, police officers left their positions, leaving no protection for citizens in the face of oncoming attacks. The armed group was seen to be in the company of known local officials, and entered vehicles belonging to members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

Civil Rights Defenders Senior Programme Officer, Ivana Randjelovic said “these scenes are indicative of Serbia’s weakening rule of law, specifically the growing political influences on institutions such as the police force. These influences were made clear with the recent attempt to adopt the Draft Law on Internal Affairs, according to which the Minister of Interior would be able to personally designate the term “police” to other entities, including far-right vigilante groups, which have in the past been known to violently suppress peaceful protests. Even without this legislation, events in Sabac showed that violent thugs can act with impunity in Serbia, when acting on behalf of government interests.”

Serbia’s government must abide by its national and international obligations in defending the right to freedom of assembly. It has a responsibility to ensure peaceful protests are not met with excessive force and sanction all forms of violence, especially by armed organised groups.