Serbian journalist Vukasin Obradovic, owner and editor-in-chief of “Vranjske” weekly newspaper, started a hunger strike on Monday, after he was forced to shut down his newspaper. “Vranjske” is a prominent weekly in Southern Serbia, famous for its investigative work on criminals and corruption. Ten years ago, the newspaper discovered a pedophile chain within the Serbian Orthodox Church. This is the biggest child abuse scandal in Serbian history.
Obradovic, former president of Independent Association of Journalists Serbia (IJAS), the biggest journalists association in Serbia, was forced to shut down “Vranjske” due to financial and political pressures from both local and state government. Six months ago, “Vranjske” went through detailed control by financial and tax control. The controllers did not find any irregularities. Suddenly, at the beginning of September, they repeated control and, allegedly, found out serious misconducts that pushed “Vranjske” to bankruptcy. To this day, Obradovic was not informed what kind of irregularities had been found.
On Tuesday evening Obradovic, who has a long history of heart issues, was hospitalized. According to his friends and family, he actually refused food since Friday, although he didn’t announce hunger strike before Monday. His health is currently stable, but he already said that he will continue with the hunger strike as soon as he gets released from the hospital. On Tuesday he sent a list of demands to Ministry of Finance – he will continue the strike until he gets an explanation in regards to why his paper has been shut down. All associations of journalists from the region of former Yugoslavia support him. There is a general opinion that there is a poor level of freedom of speech in Serbia.
The latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, published in April, says that freedom of the press in Serbia has “declined ever since Aleksandar Vucic, Slobodan Milosevic’s former information minister, became Prime Minister in May 2014”. It is also said that there have been significant setbacks in the media freedom situation over the past year in Serbia.
On the other hand, pro-government media in Serbia were under the attack of ultra-right activists. Privately owned TV Pink that openly supports President Vucic started new reality show “Community”, a mix of “Country Life” and “Big Brother”. Ultra-right political party “Dveri” organized protest in front of Pink’s headquarters on Sunday. One of the protesters attacked two Pink reporters. He pushed one in the back and punched the other in the face. This is certainly not the first physical attack on journalists in Serbia, but it is the first time that someone punches female journalists. Both of them were hospitalized, although the nature of the injuries was not publicly explained. Again, all journalists associations condemned the attack. Twitter community in Serbia did not like that, mostly claiming that two women are not journalists but propagandists that cause public outrage for years.
President Vucic visited Pink reporters in hospital, which was perceived as another proof that media in Serbia is treated unequally – Serbian PM Ana Brnabic visited Vranje while Obradovic was in the hospital. When asked about his situation, she simply said she is not the right address for that sort of questions.