Human Rights Watch condemned senior Serbian officials who this week openly threatened violence against Serbia's non-state affiliated media.
In a press conference on February 10, the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, Vojislav Seselj, directly accused Serbia's independent journalists of being "traitors," presumably for their critical stance on government policies. He added that he considered them "accomplices" in the recent murder of Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic, who was killed in a Belgrade restaurant on February 7. The killers have not been found.
"Such threats suggest that the Serbian government may use Bulatovic's murder as a justification to further crack down on domestic dissent," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division.
The Serbian government has long hindered the work of independent journalists. Since October 1998, non-state affiliated media outlets have been fined high penalties thirty-three times for "publicizing untruths which violate the rights of the individual," under Serbia's draconian Public Information Law. In five of these cases, Seselj or the party of which he is president, the Serbian Radical Party, brought the charges.
On April 11, unknown individuals murdered Slavko Curuvija, the editor of Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin magazine, who had been openly critical of the government. A commentary on state-run TV news three days before his death accused him of supporting the NATO bombing.
In an exchange with a journalist from the Belgrade-based radio station B2-92, Seselj threatened violence against the press and accused Serbia's independent journalists of working for a "treacherous medium." In response to a question, the Deputy Prime Minister stated, "Now the gloves are off. Anyone who works for the Americans must suffer the consequences. What consequences? The worst possible."
According to B2-92, Yugoslav Minster of Information Goran Matic said today in a press conference that he agreed with Seselj's comments, adding that some elements of the Serbian media were working to destabilize the country. The radio also reported that the Association of Independent Journalists in Vojvodina today announced it would bring criminal charges against Seselj for his threats.
Excerpts of Seselj's threats against the media, provided by B2-92, are presented below:
Press Conference of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj BELGRADE, Thursday, February 10
B2-92: What measures will the state take against state terrorism from the West?
Seselj: Our response will be adequate, based on the Constitution and the law, with the use of every instrument we have at our disposal for the defense of our country.
B2-92: Against whom?
Seselj: Against all who are instruments of Western countries. Against them all. Perhaps against your paper as well. You're from Novosti, right?
Seselj: Ah! From B2-92! What's that? I've not heard about that. Is it registered? Minister, is there anything like that? Against all those who act on instructions from the West, who receive money from the Americans and their allies to act against Yugoslavia. In an adequate way. You are going to experience this adequate way in practice. The gloves are off. Now it's crystal clear: he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword, and all of you should bear that in mind. Don't think that we're going to let you kill us off like rabbits, or that we'll be coddling and caring for you like potted plants. Be careful! You from B2-92 and the other treacherous outlets. You can't really believe that you'll survive if we're executed. You're very wrong. Any more questions?
B2-92: Since this thing happened with Mr Bulatovic - this tragedy and crime - are you personally afraid, bearing in mind what you have said about the state terrorism currently being carried out by other countries? You're a prominent politician.
Seselj: You should know by now that I am afraid of nothing. Absolutely nothing!
B2-92: A few weeks ago, rumor had it that you'd been injured in an accident.
Seselj: Well you can see that I'm not hurt! Why would I be afraid? It's you who should be afraid. You work for a treacherous medium.
B2-92: It's not a treacherous medium.
Seselj: Ah! It's not a treacherous medium! All right! You can prove afterwards that it isn't.
B2-92: After what?
Seselj: After something. You'll see what. The gloves are off. You kill statesmen off like rabbits here, thinking you're safe. You're making a mistake. You're making a big mistake. Now the gloves are off. Anyone who works for the Americans must suffer the consequences. What consequences? The worst possible. You're working against your own country; you're paid American money to destroy your country. You're traitors, you're the worst kind! There's nothing worse than you! You're worse than any kind of criminals!
B2-92: That's not true, Mr Seselj.
Seselj: It's very true. It's completely true. You're traitors because you take money from the Americans and you always have. You're the same, the ones who took money to kill the Defense Minister and you who are paid to spread propaganda against your country. You're the same, the same criminals. I'm quite certain about that because they submit official reports about how much money they give you. And you're the same.
B2-92: Are you looking among journalists for the murderers?
Seselj: We're looking for the murderers among those of you who work for foreign intelligence services. You're accomplices in the murder. You're the same. You journalists think you're some kind of sacred cows? Some of you are cows, all right, but not sacred. You're murderers. You're murderers of your people and your country, potentially. Yes, those of you working for the Americans: you from Danas, you from B92, you from Glas Javnosti, from Novosti, you from Blic. You're traitors to the Serbian nation. You're deliberately working in the interests of those who were killing Serbian children. You're doing it deliberately. You've sold your souls. That's what you are!