|(New York, April 26, 2000) —The Serbian government's crackdown against its critics has intensified dramatically since the end of the NATO war,according to a report published today by Human Rights Watch. Especially hard hit are opposition parties, the independent media, student movement, nongovernmental organizations, and civic activists in Serbia.
The 37-page report documents number of suspicious deaths and attacks on government critics that have remained unresolved because the government failed to conduct effective investigations. The government has increasingly used violence against street demonstrations by opposition parties and university students. Journalists have been convicted on a variety of charges and fined or given prison sentences for their writing and broadcasting. Criminal and misdemeanor proceedings have been initiated against opposition politicians and ordinary citizens who have publicly or even privately criticized the authorities.
"The government has been steadily losing popular support since the NATO war, and it has become more repressive as a result of that fact," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Government critics are facing great danger in Serbia today."
The report, "Curtailing Political Dissent: Serbia's Campaign of Violence and Harassment against Government Critics," identifies several new methods of repression used by the Serbian government since the NATO war. One method is the so-called informative talk, actually a form of interrogation, used by the police to intimidate student activists from the Otpor (Resistance) group, journalists, and opposition politicians. The government also informally recruits civilian thugs to disperse protests and to beat or arrest dissenters.
The campaign of violence and harassment has been accompanied by the unprecedented use of aggressive language by government officials and the state-controlled media, including insults and threats against the political opposition and independent journalists.
The Human Rights Watch report calls on the Serbian government to establish an independent commission of inquiry, in accordance with the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (1989), which would carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the April 11, 1999, murder of Slavko Curuvija, director of the daily Dnevni telegraf and the magazine Evropljanin, and into the October 3, 1999, accident in which four colleagues and bodyguards of opposition leader Vuk Draskovic were killed. So far the investigations of both cases have produced no results.
The report documents numerous instances of the arbitrary application of Serbia's Law on Public Information, resulting in a severe crackdown against independent media. Fines have been used to financially cripple the media and deter public criticism of the government's policies. For example, on December 23, 1999, a magistrate in Vranje, a town in the south of Serbia, fined Vranjske magazine 1,000,000 dinars (U.S. $26,000) because it published a report by the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights about repression of ethnic Albanians in Serbia's south.
According to Yugoslav law, municipal and federal elections must take place by the end of 2000. "This campaign of harassment is clearly an attempt to affect the election climate and improve the ruling party's prospects," said Ms. Cartner. "We call on the government to create conditions conducive to a free and fair vote and to respect and implement whatever results the voting yields."
The report is available on the web at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/serbia/
"The government has been steadily losing popular support since the NATO war, and it has become more repressive as a result of that fact. Government critics are facing great danger in Serbia today."
Executive Director of Human Right Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division