On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which is marked today, November 2, members of the SafeJournalists network launched the campaign #DoNotHesitateReport. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the problem of impunity for attacks on journalists, which is present in all countries of the Western Balkans, and to encourage journalists to report all types of attacks related to their work.
In the territory of the Western Balkans in the last 30 years during the war, 110 domestic journalists lost their lives. In peacetimes, five journalists lost their lives. Only two cases were resolved by a final verdict.
Journalists are exposed to threats and attacks because of their work, and due to the small number of solved cases, they are often reluctant to report the incidents. In order to encourage journalists to report the incidents, the SafeJournalists network launched the campaign #DoNottHesitateReport. Starting today, journalists from Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia will be able to report attacks on the SafeJournalists.net website. In addition to the reporting form, the website features information about contact persons from the prosecutor’s office and the police (for those countries that have them).
Although in the past, a small number of cases have been legally ended with convictions, it is very important that journalists are not discouraged and that they continue to report all attacks to the competent institutions and journalists’ associations because that is the only way to fight for a better and safer environment.
Also, it is important to point out the importance of the work that journalists perform in the public interest in order to get more support for it, because journalists are the eyes and ears of democracy, and its guardians.
Journalists face threats to their safety around the world. International organizations have recognized this problem and are trying to improve the conditions in which they work in various ways. Thus, in early October, the Council of Europe launched a continent-wide Campaign for the Safety of Journalists to be run under the slogan “Journalists matter”. The campaign’s main goal is to improve the safety conditions that journalists work in across Europe, notably through the adoption and implementation of national action plans for the protection of journalists and enhanced legal and institutional standards. Other crucial campaign objectives are setting up effective remedies at national level to address violations of media freedom, improving the investigation of crimes against journalists, and ensuring the proper sanctioning of perpetrators.
The SafeJournalists network calls on the competent authorities to take all measures in order to process cases more efficiently and swiftly and thus show readiness in the fight against impunity because only in this way can we send a clear message to potential perpetrators that attacks are unacceptable.
Support to journalists by official institutions
In all countries of the Western Balkans there are mechanisms that deal with the problem of attacks on journalists. Representatives of the mechanisms, as well as individuals familiar with the problem of attacks on journalists, expressed their support to journalists this year:
“Silence towards crimes against journalists is what kills freedom of expression, the dignity and integrity of journalists. The courageous act of denouncing a crime by the journalist who is its victim gives hope and helps many others to follow the same path with the aim that the ones who are scared are not the journalists but only those against whom the accusations are made and who should be investigated by the prosecution and are punished by the court.”, Erida Skendaj, Executive Director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee
“Media organizations and justice institutions are the pillars where every act that infringes on freedom of speech and expression should be reported!”, Isa Myzyraj, journalist
Bosnia and Herzegovina
“The Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Sarajevo Canton is determined to take actions within its jurisdiction to ensure the highest possible degree of protection of journalistic activity and enable journalists to perform their functions in the society without hindrance. The stated determination motivated us to be the first prosecutor’s office in Bosnia and Herzegovina which appointed a contact person for journalists and set a priority status for these cases for the sake of effective and efficient criminal protection of the journalistic profession. For the detection and prosecution of perpetrators of criminal acts committed against journalists, it is crucial that each attack be reported immediately after it occurs. I call on all journalists to report any attack without delay to the competent police administration or directly to the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Sarajevo Canton.”, Darko Martincevic, Prosecutor and contact person for reporting attacks and threats to journalists in Sarajevo Canton
“The Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Herzegovina – Neretva Canton, on the recommendation of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, appointed the prosecutor as the contact person for journalists’ safety. The Prosecutor’s Office calls on journalists from this Canton to report all attacks and threats that they receive as a result of doing their work either to the Prosecutor’s Office or to the police authorities. These cases will have priority in our work. The prosecutor – contact point is available to both journalists and journalists’ organizations for inquiries and information related to cases in which journalists are injured parties”, Jurica Knezovic, Prosecutor and contact person in the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Herzegovina – Neretva Canton in Mostar.
“It is of paramount importance for journalists and media professionals to formally report attacks and other criminal acts they may fall victim to while carrying out their duties. This is the only way for a journalist, as a victim, to be formally informed of all the rights they have as a victim and to better cope with the physical and psychological consequences of such attacks. It is crucial to realize that formal reporting can prevent the perpetrator from committing a criminal act against others and deter them from repeating it against the same journalist. Furthermore, based on the report, an assessment can be made to determine whether the specific journalist or those close to them require protection from the perpetrator. In essence, reporting to the police is the foundation for taking action”, Ivica Kropek, Head of the General Crime Department at the Police Directorate
“An attack on a journalist motivated solely by the fact that they are a journalist, and because of their profession in which they report on all socially significant events, represents a direct assault on the freedom of the media, a fundamental right in any organized democratic society. Despite the potential cliché of this statement, it is something that, in my opinion, needs to be reiterated persistently when discussing this issue, particularly in the public discourse. Therefore, I believe that journalists should report every such attack to the police or other relevant state authorities, not only for their own sake but also to raise public awareness of such occurrences. I’m not just referring to immediate physical threats, but also to all other forms of attacks in the form of threats, intimidation, or pressure, which can hinder journalists from persistent and objective reporting”, Judge Kresimir Devcic, Spokesperson of the County Court in Zagreb
“Attacks and threats against journalists undermine freedom of speech. Kosovo Police has consistently taken legal action against individuals involved in such incidents. Every attack or threat against the media/journalists is prohibited and sanctioned by law. Therefore, we urge journalists to report any such incidents to the law enforcement authorities. By reporting and prioritizing these cases, we can effectively prevent future ones.”, – Baki Kelani, Spokesperson of the Kosovo Police
“The State Prosecutor and the Police are responsible for taking all necessary actions to identify the perpetrators of the crime, conduct timely investigations, and prosecute criminal offenses. This ensures that those responsible for crimes against journalists are promptly brought to justice. Furthermore, it is the duty of the State Prosecutor to prioritize these cases, thereby we encourage all journalists to promptly report instances of violence against them to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police.”, Bashkim Zeqaj, State Prosecutor
“As the head of the largest Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Montenegro in terms of the number of cases, including cases concerning the safety of journalists, I express my full support for the work on elucidating these cases and advocate for the creation of the safest possible environment in which journalists could engage in their profession unhindered, which we have shown in our previous work. Journalism profession deserves full support of the state prosecutor’s office, and I will continue to advocate for it from this position.”, Dusko Milanovic, Head of Basic Prosecution in Podgorica
“Violence is unacceptable. Report every threat and attack”, Predrag Nikolic, Member of the Commission for Monitoring Investigations of the Attacks on Journalists
”Journalists are the pillar of freedom of expression, and through their protection from attacks and other crimes, the democratic principles of the entire society are protected. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is dedicated to the protection of free speech and criminally prosecutes anyone who threatens such freedom.”, Iskra Hadji Vasileva, a public prosecutor from the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office Skopje appointed to monitor cases related to journalists’ safety
,,As the Ministry of Internal Affairs, we work dedicatedly to ensure safe working conditions for media workers. One of the primary duties of every institution is to constantly work on providing conditions for the functioning of journalists and to cooperate with the media constantly.”, Toni Angelovski – Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs for Public Relations
“It is important for journalists and other media workers to know that as soon as an attack or threat occurs in connection with the work they perform, they should immediately report the case to the competent authorities – go to the first police station, to the competent prosecutor’s office, or contact the association of journalists which monitors attacks on journalists and cooperates with law enforcement authorities. It is particularly important that the criminal complaint is filed without delay, which enables the efficient provision of evidence in the proceedings in question, bearing in mind that the mandatory instruction of the Supreme Prosecutor stipulates that the first action must be taken within 48 hours of the receipt of the criminal complaint by the prosecutor’s office.”, Vanja Culibrk, public prosecutor, First Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade and contact point for the safety of journalists
International organizations’ support
Organizations gathered within Media Freedom Rapid Response also provided support to journalists from the countries of the Western Balkans:
“To protect press and media freedom, we need an accurate picture of the forces that threaten it. Reporting violations creates awareness, enables targeted support, feeds into effective policy and legal responses, and sends a clear signal that attacks and threats against journalists and media workers should not be normalised or tolerated.”, Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR)
“To remain silent in the face of any form of aggression is to give free rein to the aggressors and to new acts of violence. Passivity is a form of complicity in this spiral of violence. Publicly denouncing such violence and intimidation, and exposing the perpetrators to prosecution, is a moral duty. It is the only possible choice for any conscious and responsible journalist.”, Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary EFJ