Home Human Rights Human Rights Watch: Attacks on journalists remain a problem in the Western Balkans

Human Rights Watch: Attacks on journalists remain a problem in the Western Balkans

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NEW YORK – Human rights protections showed little improvement in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2019, while tensions between Serbs and Albanians remain high in Kosovo, according to a recently released annual report from Human Rights Watch.

War crimes prosecutions in domestic courts have been cited as one of the main problems in Serbia, which also has a flawed asylum system, with low recognition rates.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the state fails in practice to protect women from gender-based violence and to hold many of those responsible to account, the report says. Ten years after provisions of the Constitution were found to be discriminatory by a human rights court, they have still not been amended.

Particular emphasis was placed on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which remains stalled in November 2018 after Serbia blocked Kosovo from joining Interpol, followed by the introduction of customs tariffs.

Tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued, particularly in the north. Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in the Balkans continue to face discrimination, the report said.

Journalists continue to face attacks and threats

Pro-government media in Serbia frequently defame independent media and journalists, calling them “traitors” and “foreign mercenaries.” Media plurality was compromised by the fact that the majority of media outlets were aligned with the ruling party, Human Rights Watch noted.

Between January and the end of July, the Association of Independent Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) recorded 27 incidents of violence, threats or intimidation against journalists, including eight physical attacks and 19 threats. Serbia moved from 76th to 90th place in the world press freedom ranking established by Reporters Without Borders out of 180 countries.

Threats and attacks against journalists also continued in Kosovo, while investigations and prosecutions lagged behind schedule. Threats on social media platforms remain a widespread problem. Between January and September, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo recorded 11 cases of threats and violence against journalists and media outlets, including four physical attacks and seven threats. Police were investigating four of the reported cases at the time of writing.

Journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as those in Serbia, continued to face interference in their work. In August 2019, the Association of Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina BH Novinari recorded 41 violations of journalists’ rights, including three verbal threats, eight cases of political pressure, six physical attacks and five death threats. Most of the cases were reported to the police and, at the time of writing, 15 of them were submitted to the relevant prosecutor’s office. Although the number of solved cases did not increase significantly, BH Novinari reported that the police were more engaged and proactive in the cases than in the past, and that other relevant public institutions were communicating better regarding attacks against the journalists.

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