Serbian independent media clashes with government

 22 Sep 2017 - 19:45

Serbian independent media clashes with government
Peace demonstrators hold banners reading 'Peace is a right for everyone' and 'Stop War, Stop Terrorism' during a peace protest in Belgrade, Serbia on September 21, 2017. Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) and Woman in Blacks gather to mark 21th September International Day of Peace and current violations of human rights. (Talha Öztürk - Anadolu Agency)

AFP

Belgrade:  Serbian independent media has clashed with the government over a minister's luxury apartment purchase and the closure of a newspaper, drawing international warnings over the need for press freedom.

Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin came under fire from investigative media portal KRIK over the source of more than 200,000 euros ($240,000) that he used to buy an apartment in 2012 in Belgrade.

Vulin said he borrowed the sum from his wife's aunt in Canada, KRIK reported, citing a document on the case from Serbia's anti-corruption agency.

But KRIK said the money "couldn't have passed international borders without being declared to customs and without an explanation of its origins".

Vulin, a close ally of President Aleksandar Vucic and former aide to late strongman Slobodan Milosevic's wife, told KRIK that he had transported the cash from Canada in 9,000-euro instalments, "so it was legal".

The anti-corruption agency submitted the case to prosecutors for organised crime two years ago but they recently dropped it without explanation, according to local media.

Vulin's Movement of Socialists party issued a statement slamming KRIK's editor-in-chief, saying he was "paid from abroad for every article attacking Vulin" and was also "a drug user".

The Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International defended independent reporting as vital for public accountability.

"Denigrating journalists who are working to expose corruption is not the answer to awkward questions," it said.

Serbia's Independent Journalists' Association slammed the "very serious attack on freedom of expression" and "merciless pressure on journalists".

'Hopelessness'

Separately, the founder and owner of a weekly newspaper in southern Serbia, Novine Vranjske, which closed on Monday, briefly went on hunger strike this week.

In an open letter, Vukasin Obradovic said he wanted to draw attention to the "hopelessness of the battle for media freedom that we have been fighting for the last 30 years".

He alleged that the paper was a victim of increased tax controls as a result of political pressure.

In a letter to Brussels, the opposition Democratic Party leader Dragan Sutanovac said the paper was forced to fold owing to "huge pressure, blackmail and an organised campaign conducted by the government of Serbia and local authorities".

The government has not responded to these allegations.

Asked for comment on the controversies, the European Union's press service warned that freedom of expression is "one of the core elements of Serbia's European integration process".

"Any labelling or attacks on the integrity of journalists that can hinder their professional work go against the values of media freedom."