The Ombudsman’s report: Executive power is pressuring the judiciary

Serbian executive power is putting pressure on the prosecution and judiciary, states a new report by the Ombudsman.

Srđan Ilić: Ruševine u Hercegovačkoj
Photo: Srđan Ilić / Ruševine u Hercegovačkoj

The Serbian Ombudsman report for 2016, published on Wednesday, is highly critical towards the influence of the executive power on other branches of the government, stating that the government is putting pressure on the judiciary and prosecution.

As a case study, the Ombudsman’s Office refers to the illegal night demolition that took place in Hercegovacka street in the night of 24th April 2016. The Ombudsman also addressed the continuing deterioration of freedom of speech and dramatic situation in the Serbian media.

On the night of the elections on 24th April 2016, a group of masked man illegally demolished privately owned objects in Hercegovacka street. During this “action,” the masked group prevented the citizens who found themselves there from taking photos and restricted their movement. The citizens called the police, but the police did not react.

The current Serbian Prime Minister admitted in mid-June last year that the illegal demolition was organized by a Belgrade’s senior official. The demolition took place in the area intended for Belgrade Waterfront project constructions. Belgrade Waterfront is a “pet project” of the PM Vucic’s government and Belgrade authorities.

Although the city authorities claimed that the demolition of objects in Hercegovacka street for the purposes of Belgrade Waterfront was not due until the end of 2019, Insajder’s findings show that, under the contract, the deadline for clearing this area was 30th June 2016.

Hercegovacka street demolition as a case study

The Ombudsman has criticized the Public Prosecution and the Police Sector of the Internal Control over the fact that even eleven months after the demolition, the investigation is still in its initial phase.
“The night demolition in Hercegovacka street, the inaction of the police, and all the events of that night were a blatant violation of law. More importantly, the necessary steps following these events should have been taken in accordance with the law, but this was not the case,“ states the report signed by the acting Ombudsman Milos Jankovic.

To date, the authorities have not revealed who ordered the police not to respond that night. The Sector of Internal Control was supposed to investigate this matter, but the results of the investigation are still unknown.

“The Sector of the Internal Control of the Police, which is in charge of controlling the members of the Police, did not act in accordance with their role,” stated the Report.
To support this claim, the Ombudsman quoted the Public Prosecution’s responses to , which show that the Police has interfered with the investigation.

When asked the Public Prosecution whether the Sector for the Internal Control gave them the report or whether they have even started the investigation on police members involved in the case, the Prosecution replied that our questions “are not in the accordance with the law.”

“The Prosecution stated that the police did not collaborate with them on this investigation, and that they do not have the mechanism to order the police to do its job. This seems unconvincing since there are in fact mechanisms and laws, and the Prosecution should use them.”

“The Prosecution is the one doing the investigation. Any interference, especially by the members of the police who are not acting by the orders of the Prosecution, should be criminally or disciplinary sanctioned,” it is written in the report.

The report also claims that the state authorities have continually minimalized the case in public addresses for months, saying that “only three illegal barracks were demolished.”The PM Aleksandar Vucic also claimed that only illegal barracks were demolished, and that he would do it himself in broad daylight.

Media campaign points to the involvement of the Government

When the Ombudsman’s Office started the investigation on Hercegovacka street demolition after reading the documents and listening to the recordings of citizens’ calls to the police, it was determined that the police did not respond to the calls of the citizens in the night of 24th April.

In the report, the Ombudsman’s Office claims that after these findings, multiple levels of the authorities stopped communicating with the Ombudsman.

“There was an intense media campaign to discredit the personality of the (former) Ombudsman. The top state officials took part in that campaign, which lead to downgrading the institution he represents. This reaction of the government did not come before but after the findings on Hercegovacka street demolition, indicating the government’s involvement in this case.”

The former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic was subject to a smear campaign led by pro-government tabloids after the findings on Hercegovacka street. Jankovic resigned in February, when he announced he will run for the presidency at the elections scheduled for April.

No progress on the freedom of speech

When it comes to freedom of expression, the report claims that no progress was made whatsoever.

It came to the attention of the Ombudsman’s office that the Police Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic started a “private” lawsuit against journalists of Serbian weekly NIN. Journalists of NIN marked Minister Stefanovic accountable for the lack of reaction of the Police during the demolition night. The journalists also referred to the Obudsman’s report, which determined deliberate inaction of the Police.

“The process was solved in an unusually short time. Belgrade’s High Court ruled out in favour of the Minister.” By the Court’s decision, NIN must pay 300,000 RSD ( 2,400 EUR) to the Minister for violating his honour and reputation. Last year, numerous academics claimed that the Minister’s Ph.D. thesis was plagiarized. However, the private University where Stefanovic defended the thesis denied those claims. 

Irena Stevic

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