Serbia unable to render justice to reporter whose home was torched
Following a Belgrade appeal court decision to quash the conviction of those accused of torching investigative reporter Milan Jovanovic’s house in 2018, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Serbian authorities to organise a new trial as a matter of urgency, and to renew Jovanovic’s protection.
The appeal court issued its decision on Christmas Eve after its usual working hours but, according to Veran Matic, the head of a consultative body on journalists’ safety, it was taken in November. Citing procedural grounds – an alleged failure on the part of the lower court to adequately justify its verdict – the appeal court ordered a new trial for the accused instigator and two perpetrators of the Molotov cocktail attack on Milan Jovanovic’s home.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic personally promised that justice would be rendered for the attack on Jovanovic’s home, which – according to prosecutors – was ordered by Dragoljub Simonovic, the former mayor of a Belgrade suburb and senior official in the president’s SNS party, in reaction to Jovanovic’s coverage of his financial management as mayor.
But the authorities resorted to dubious ploys that cast doubt on their intention to punish those responsible. Firstly, the prosecutor in charge of the prosecution was taken off the case against both his will and Jovanovic’s in April 2021. Then Jovanovic’s police protection was withdrawn in August. No explanation was given for either of these decisions.
“After being the target of an arson attack, journalist Milan Jovanovic is now the victim of the Serbian state’s inability to render justice,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “The authorities must organise a new trial as a matter of urgency and must renew Jovanovic’s police protection. We also call on the government to provide him with material assistance now that the criminal proceedings are being prolonged.”
In the absence of a final verdict, Jovanovic will not for the time being receive the damages that would help him to rebuild the home destroyed by the fire. The editor of a local news site called Zig Info and now aged in his 70s, Jovanovic is still struggling to have a decent place to live and continues to be the target of intimidation attempts.
After the arson attack, Jovanovic and his wife were the victims of an unsolved intrusion in the alternative accommodation provided by the authorities. In the course of the trial, he was subjected to a humiliating cross-examination by the lawyers representing Simonovic, while Simonovic himself felt confident enough to threaten the prosecutor, claiming that he would be dismissed.
RSF will draw the attention of the institutions of the European Union – which Serbia wants to join – to the Serbian state’s inability to defend press freedom in this case, which is now emblematic of the impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in the Western Balkans.
Serbia is ranked 93rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.