WAVE Support statement for our fellow activists in Serbia
The WAVE Network believes in freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and freedom of press and media. We aim to promote as well as strengthen human rights values on the basis of gender equality, which is why it is particularly disheartening to learn about the current situation in Serbia. Civil society organisations, individual activists, protesters as well as journalists are being intimidated, threatened and arrested for expressing their political discontent. Insufficient access to media and political pressure thus prohibit citizens to obtain accurate information about the incidents, including several incidents of severe gender-based violence against women, in their own country. When objective media coverage, freedom of speech and safety are at risk and no longer guaranteed, we must stand in solidarity with civil society activists in these countries. WAVE thus expresses its utmost support of all the Serbian non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, activists and protesters who are trying to raise awareness on political injustice and particularly the ongoing human rights violations of women. All citizens deserve a life based on human rights values, including the right to express oneself and the right not to be mistreated or wrongly punished by the state.
In Serbia, activists, protesters and journalists are being intimidated, threatened and arrested for expressing their political dissatisfaction. Politically unjust incidents have led citizens to engage in peaceful protests which unfortunately resulted in the inappropriate use of force(2) against, as well as the arrest of, many of the protesters in Belgrade. The majority of Serbian media ignored the protests for three months and when they started covering the protests, the protestors were depicted as agitators without contextualising the reason behind their protest. “The right to information, as the basic civil and political right, has been a clearly articulated demand since the protests started last December. The only response by the public broadcaster and other media were the reports on the incidents the police failed to prevent, intended to create the intolerance among people with different political affiliations and to present an image of an attempt to violently change the regime.” (3) N1, the only media outlet that accurately followed the protests as well as the arrests of the protesters, is now confronted with threats and calls on the journalists who are working there to support withstanding the political pressure. However, journalists are just as much at risk as protesters. Recently, the house of a Serbian investigative journalist was burned down, leaving many journalists as well as citizens frightened to express their opinions publicly .(4)
Serbian Citizens are currently greatly exposed to violence and particularly women. Marija Lukić(5) , alongside six other women, was sexually harassed by her employer, the mayor of the Serbian municipality Brus, both at work as well as after work(6). After sexual blackmail and receiving 15000 unsolicited text messages, Marija Lukić decided to report the incidents, for which she unfortunately did not get any support from mandatory institutions but only from women’s organisations, activists and citizens during a protest in Belgrade, where she held a speech. Contrarily, she received and is currently still receiving death threats(5) while the mayor, who officially resigned but is still in office, was recently supported in a rally(7), despite being publicly accused of sexual assault and abuse of power. The five other cases against the mayor were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Although another one of the women received 200 unsolicited text messages by the mayor, this number was seen as insufficient for the cases to be held in court and the proceedings to be initiated.
(1) sources provided by Fenomena