CIVICUS urges Serbian authorities to stop using force to disperse protesters demonstrating against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIVICUS calls for an independent investigation into violent attacks on protesters by police and condemns police violence against journalists covering the protests.
More than 70 people have been detained and around 19 injured in demonstrations that began when President Aleksandar Vučić announced plans to re-impose weekend curfews after a rise in COVID-19 infections. Journalists covering the anti-lockdown protests have also been attacked and harassed by police despite identifying as members of the media.
“Footage showing security forces violently attacking protesters and bystanders and using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesting crowds, is an affront to the fundamental freedoms of Serbians. Serbians are concerned about the double standards of the authorities who lifted restrictions ahead of the 21 June 2020 elections that consolidated the powers of the ruling party. Security forces should stop using violence as this only escalates tensions,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead.
“What we are witnessing in Serbia is a culmination of years of human rights violations and civic space restrictions under President Aleksandar Vučić. These restrictions have further emboldened right-wing groups that have attacked peaceful protesters, threatened human rights defenders, and subjected activists to smear campaigns – all with utmost impunity,” Kode continued.
Thousands took to the streets on 7 June 2020 as President Aleksandar Vučić announced a decision by the government to re-impose weekend curfews amidst a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections. Protesters demonstrated against plans to implement the curfew and criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic. They argued that the Serbian authorities lifted restrictions ahead of the 21 June parliamentary elections which were won overwhelmingly by President Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), and which have further tightened his party’s grip on power. Protests that started in Belgrade have spread to other cities including Nis, Kragujevac and Novi Sad.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has 10,000 members worldwide.
Serbia is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world.