Action Demanded Over Threats to Croatian Journalists

Saša Leković, president of the Croatian Journalists' Association

European Federation of Journalists voiced concern over threats and hate speech used towards journalists in Croatia and will report the case to the Council of Europe.

by Sven Milekic, BIRN, Zagreb

The European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, said on Monday that it felt “deeply concerned by the increase of hate speech and direct threats towards journalists in Croatia while impunity remains rampant”.

“An alert will be submitted to the platform of the Council of Europe for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists,” EFJ stated.

The EFJ also noted that it was joining its affiliate in the Croatian Journalists’ Association, HND, in “calling on to the authorities to investigate and adequately respond to the incident” regarding the HND’s president Sasa Lekovic.

Lekovic wrote on Facebook on Friday that someone half-sawed two screws on a wheel of his car, due to which he almost had an accident when driving on the highway from Belgrade to Zagreb on Thursday.

A mechanic “eventually informed me that he found that two screws on the right front wheel were sawed half-way and that after 300 kilometres of driving it caused the breaking up [of screws],” he wrote.

Lekovic wrote in the same post that this is not the first time somebody “played with the screws” on the wheels of his car but that he did not report earlier cases.

After the case was revealed on Friday, a number of NGOs and media representatives characterised it as an assassination attempt and called on the police to investigate.

HND’s executive committee called the case “a culmination of the verbal assaults and worst insults” that Lekovic had received since becoming the HND president in 2014, while on certain web portals, it said, readers “openly call for his murder”.

It warned that Lekovic’s case showed that only “a small step” separates threats of physical violence and actual assassination attempts.

“We demand the most urgent actions of responsible institutions in all cases of threats against journalists,” it concluded, accusing the authorities of having not resolved “a single case of threats against journalists in Croatia”.

The Zagreb-based Human Rights House also condemned the threats to Lekovic and said it had recorded 75 cases of physical and verbal attacks on journalists in 2015 and 2016.

The NGO noted that Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, had emphasised on his visit to Croatia in spring that cases of attacks on journalists “must be treated with special seriousness” and that institutions must send a strong message regarding the protection of journalists.

“Unfortunately … the police and the state attorney’s office don’t approach this issue seriously,” the NGO concluded.

Lekovic himself reported the whole case to the police, Croatian state news agency HINA reported on Monday, saying other, earlier cases needed to be taken into consideration.

“Besides the car accident, previous threats will also be reflected on. Many of them I didn’t even report, and there were certainly a dozen direct and many more indirect ones,” Lekovic said.

The article was originally published by Balkan Insight on 1 November 2016. It is republished here with permission.