History of incidents against Stefan Cvetkovic, Serbian freelance journalist missing since 13.06.2018

Photo: Media Center

BELA CRKVA – 14.06.2018. On the night of June 13 -14 Stefan Cvetkovic was reported missing in the Vojvodina town of Bela Crkva. Local police confirmed that Cvetkovic’s car was found parked with the doors open and lights on. Media reported that the car engine was still running and that witnesses confirmed that Cvetkovic’s wristwatch was found with the bracelet broken next to it. His mobile phones are switched off.

Serbian police is currently sweeping the territory near the place the car was found. It engaged specialist divers and police dogs, as well as special police forces in the search.

Though Cvetkovic is known for writing about a range of topics, his investigation of the assassination of Oliver Ivanovic, local Serbian politician in Kosovo, put him under the new spotlight. Upon his return from Kosovo in May he was held by the Kosovo authorities for six hours because of the contacts he had made while researching. Cvetkovic was previously threatened because of his work, often by local officials. Once his phone was broken and on another occasion his car was damaged after local officials branded him a ‘legitimate target’ and a ‘foreign mercenary’.

“Stefan Cvetkovic reported a number of threats coming from different criminal and political circles in Serbia.” –  said Slavisa Lekic, president of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, “His disappearance must be a priority of the local police and the Ministry of Interior. We demand engaging all resources with hopes that Cvetkovic will be found unharmed.”

The Independent Journalists Association of Serbia maintains a database of attacks and pressures against journalists. The information is gathered from media (publicly available information) and through mechanism allowing journalists to report incidents.

Cvetkovic reported seven incidents involving verbal and physical intimidation and attacks:

1. Death threats, 15.12.2016

 Cvetkovic reported to IJAS that he had found a message stating ‘DEAD’ on his car. He suspects that the message is a result of his reporting about criminal activities surrounding dumping and burning toxic waste in Bela Crkva.

Prosecutor’s office found that there are no elements of criminal act but the police continued to gather information about the case.

IJAS has no further information about the status of the investigation.

 Please note that in January 2018 it was revealed that 1 tonne of toxic waste that was stored inadequately in Bela Crkva was transported to Novi Sad where it was found illegally stored. Additional 25 tonnes of toxic waste was found in Obrenovac – the packaging indicates it originated from Bela Crkva but is not confirmed. For more info see N1 website in Serbian).

2. Death threats and damage to property 30.01.2016

 Marjan Aleksic, deputy president of Bela Crkva municipality threatened Stefan Cvetkovic and broke his mobile phone. Witnesses confirmed that the incident took place in a restaurant near Bela Crkva.  Aleksic approach the table where Cvetkovic was sitting with colleagues from the Production group ‘Mreza’ and threatened him. When he noticed that Cvetkovic had turned his mobile phone on to record the threats, Aleksic broke the screen of the phone.

The incident was condemned by Social democrat league of Vojvodina.

Cvetkovic did not report the incident to the police.

3. Damage to property, 21.12.2015

Cvetkovic’s car has been damaged by unknown perpetrators. This happened after the local officials labelled Cvetkovic a ‘legitimate target’ calling him a ‘foreign mercenary’.

On the occasion Cvetkovic stated that the assistant to the municipality president, Jovan Daj had on numerous occasions stated that ‘Stefan Cvetkovic is a foreign mercenary paid by SOROS foundation based in Frankfurt’

The incident has been reported to the police.

IJAS has no further information about the status of the investigation.

4. Death threats, 13.08.2015

 Cvetkovic announced that he had been targeted and received a large number of death threats to him and his family.  First he had received anonymous ‘friendly suggestions’ that he shouldn’t investigate the abuse of Vojvodina Capital Investment Fund followed by continuous threats via internet and phone. He’d been threatened with ‘slaughter’, ‘murder’, ‘breaking a spine’, ‘murdering his child’, ‘cutting his tongue’ and ‘finger breaking’.

The incident has been reported to the police. Cvetkovic said that the police told him he had been targeted for asking questions regarding Capital Investment Fund during a press conference on 07.08.2015 and that they came from persons who damaged the Fund. The questions were posed to then Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

IJAS has no further information about the status of the investigation.

5. Death threats followed by a physical assault, 15.05.2015

 Cvetkovic reported that a man first insulted him and then threatened him ‘not to write about things he shouldn’t be writing about’.

“The man threatened me with death, he poured drinks over me and spat at me” said Cvetkovic and added he had reported the incident to the police and that while leaving the police station the same man waited for  him – “He attacked me again in front of the police station and the police arrested him.“ Cvetkovic thinks the man attacked him because of his writing about a skunk laboratory near Bela Crkva.

The case was processed and Srdjan Zlatanovic was convicted to 6 months in prison, suspended for 2 years.

IJAS records show two more attacks on Cvetkovic in the past:

6. 19.07.2008 – a former policeman Marko Pavlovic first threatened Cvetkovic and then beat him in the head in a restaurant where he dined with his girlfriend. The reason for the attack was Cvetkovic’s report about Pavlovic consuming narcotics at the time he was a policeman prompting Pavlovic’s suspension.

7. 04.05.2008 – Cvetkovic was physically assaulted as he recorded an incident when a group was insulting the leader of Vojvodina Social Democrats, Nenad Canak. His camera was hit by a bottle and he had been hit. The police arrived promptly and Cvetkovic said that the attackers said they belong to Serbian Radical Party.

NUNS, Beograd, 14/06/2018