On the occasion of the arrest of journalist, activist, director and lawyer, Boško Savković, who was ordered detention for up to 30 days for the criminal offense of calling for a violent change of the constitutional order, we, the undersigned organizations, whose goal is to protect the rule of law and human rights, alarm the domestic and international public of this organized intimidation of citizens and gross violation of freedom of expression by the highest Serbian state authorities.
Boško Savković is accused of carrying a doll of the Serbian president hanging on a banner at the “Serbia against Violence” protest held on June 3, 2023. Savkovic denies that he had anything to do with the doll with which his banner was photographed and claims that it was not hanging on his banner. A large number of citizens were photographed with the banner that went, as he states, “from hand to hand at the protest”, and there is no evidence that the doll in question actually belonged to Boško Savković. The symbolic expression of citizens’ dissatisfaction, which obviously did not aim at calling for violence, was understood as calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order of Serbia. We remind the public that the constitutional order of Serbia prescribes basic human rights and freedoms, among which is freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international treaties that Serbia has ratified, such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Freedom of expression implies the right to convey and spread ideas and opinions through speech, writing, painting and even performance. In political criticism, freedom of expression can be shocking, unpleasant and even offensive, but state bodies and officials are obliged to tolerate it as decision-makers and because of the position of power they enjoy in society. This type of criticism is often encountered at political protests around the world where dolls with the likenesses of public officials are physically destroyed, and in a democratic state citizen must not suffer the consequences for opinions expressed in this way.
This arrest is not only a disproportionate and extremely repressive measure against one citizen, but also aims to send a message to all other citizens of Serbia that it is not allowed to criticize politicians in power in Serbia or that criticism is only allowed in certain, unwritten ways. We also remind you that this is not the only such arrest in connection with the protests. At a time when a large number of citizens express dissatisfaction with political decisions on the street, using their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, Security Information Agency implements a policy of intimidation in order to suppress the largest protest in Serbia in this century. The aforementioned arrest was condemned by the European Economic and Social Committee, whose body, the EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committee, is co-chaired by Mr. Savković on behalf of Serbia.
We call on other international and domestic organizations, bodies, independent institutions, individuals, media and activists to condemn this attack on basic human rights in Serbia and prevent further erosion of the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. We especially appeal to the judicial authorities in Serbia to protect the rights of citizens and their independence, to be guided by the Constitution, international standards in the field of human rights and the law when making decisions, and not to succumb to pressure from the executive power.
- Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM
- Independent Journalists’ Association of of Serbia
- Belgrade Center for Security Policy
- Institute for Territorial Economic Development (InTER)
- Center for Cultural Decontamination
- Partners for Democratic Changes Serbia
- Belgrade Center for Human Rights
- Youth Initiative for Human Rights
- Novi Optimizam
- Autonomous Women’s Center
- Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation
- Civic initiatives
- Initiative A11