Free Press

BIRN Serbia: Government to stop with witch hunt

We request that instead of suppressing dissenting voices, the government create an environment where organisations that point to criminal actions and corruption will be involved in debate on fundamental issues in our society in a fair and free manner.

Instead of openness to criticism, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has joined an ongoing campaign led by major Serbian tabloids against independent media outlets such as the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, Serbia’s Centre for Investigative Journalist, CINS, and the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, KRIK.

In the television show Cirilica [Cyrillic], broadcast on Serbia-wide Happy TV on November 9, Prime Minister Vucic once again accused those pointing to corruption in the state of aiming to overthrow the Serbian government. These government watchdogs, BIRN Serbia included, are accused of using lies to attack the state.

It is an extremely dangerous environment when the prime minister is using his position to dismiss opponents, qualifying them as mobsters, thieves and criminals despite no evidence or opportunity for them to defend themselves. This creates an atmosphere where unpredictable and sometimes lethal consequences exist.

During his interview with Happy TV, Prime Minister Vucic voiced his support of the theory that independent investigative centres in Serbia are paid by foreign donors to destabilise the government.

The day prior, the interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic addressed the same theory in his appearance on national broadcaster TV Pink’s programme Teska rec. He used his public podium to express allegations that BIRN, CINS and KRIK are being financed exclusively by foreign donations. This approach suggests that BIRN’s financing is controversial.

We would like to remind the public that BIRN is not exclusively financed from foreign funders, but also with taxpayers’ money through the government’s office for cooperation with civil society. BIRN Serbia is not a phantom organisation on a secret mission to cause unrest, but an organisation that has worked in Serbia for ten years, in accordance to all the laws of our state. BIRN Serbia also makes all data, including financial records, publically available through the competent bodies.

The latest attacks are merely a continuation of the campaign against BIRN, which started in April 2014. The initial attack was sparked when BIRN published the draft agreement between the Serbian government and Etihad Airways, which showed that the state had paid more for its stake in carrier Air Serbia than it had revealed to the public. That campaign reached a peak earlier this year after an investigation into the controversial tender for de-watering Serbia’s biggest mine, Tamnava, was published. To this day, the findings have not been denied.

BIRN believes that this continual campaign was directed at discrediting the organisation in the absence of arguments, which would deny the findings of our published investigations.

BIRN Serbia calls representatives of the Serbian government to stop deceiving the public and participating in the campaign against civil society organisations, which report professionally and objectively on the work of Serbian institutions.

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