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Serbian journalists must be allowed to report truth about recent floods

Ambulances are seen half submerged in floodwaters in front of a school in the flooded town of Obrenovac, Serbia
Ambulances are seen half submerged in floodwaters in front of a school in the flooded town of Obrenovac, Serbia

REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have called on the Serbian government to respect media freedom by allowing journalists to tell the truth about the recent floods in the country that has claimed the lives of over 50 citizens.

The call came following recent allegations over the government's attempt to censors criticism of its handling of the devastating floods. According to media reports, around 30 people have been detained on the grounds of “dissemination of false news and panic”.

News portals as such and that have published critical reports about the Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, have been hacked and blocked. The online daily newspaper, Blic, was forced to remove some of the critical content towards the Prime Minister. It was also reported that three people are being prosecuting for their critical posts on Facebook. If prosecuted, they could face up to five years imprisonment.

“We fear that the abuse of such law will lead to self-censorship among journalists and media organisations. Journalists must be allowed to report freely without fear and intimidation,” says the EFJ.

Dragana Cabarkapa, President of the Journalists' Union of Serbia (JUS - Sindikat novinara Srbije), an EFJ affiliate, asked the government to respect media freedom and stop interfering with the independent work of journalists.

The allegations of internet censorship in Serbia have attracted international attention following the remarks made by Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). She declared during a conference in Stockholm that the situation in Serbia “is a clear violation of the right to free expression”.

In a recent interview with the Deutsche Welle in Serbian, the EFJ has called on the Serbian Prime Minister to allow journalists to do their jobs freely. “If you want to learn something about the state of democracy in a country, it is enough to look at the state of press freedom in this country,” reported journalist Marina Maksimović quoting an EU official. "In the case of publishing false information or insults against a state or any individuals, proper legal procedures must be observed and decision must be made by an independent judicial body. However, this is not the case of Serbia", adds the EFJ.

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