Is Serbia introducing jail time for words and thoughts?

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The proposed amendments to Serbia’s Criminal Code, stipulate that by saying something that may upset someone, you risk imprisonment, journalists and lawyer warned on Tuesday.

The changes were officially proposed to „additionally protect journalists,“ but Lawyer Bozo Prelevic told N1 it was „a perfidious manoeuvre lacking proper public debate. Instead of being protected, the journalists become victims. Any criticism is trampled on.“


However, Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister, said that only the United Media journalists „see a verbal offence“ in changes aimed at protecting media people.


„A verbal offence exists; it’s just not formalised. Now, the authorities want to formalise it so they can punish any negative statements,“ Srdjan Skoro, a journalist, told N1.


He added that „they want to kill every thinking different from what they think one should think.“


„That speaks to what extent they are afraid of a different opinion. It is much more dangerous for them than the coronavirus, and they will do everything to formalise the verbal offence,“ Skoro said.


Vukasin Obradovic, a journalist, recalled the initiative to change the Criminal Code came from the Working Group on the Protection of Journalists to protect journalists.


„The public debate should go on until Wednesday, and the OSCE was involved in the whole process. I would not say the journalist associations are enthusiastic about the changes,“ Obradovic told N1.


He adds that the Working Group for Chapter 23 asked for more time for public debate on the proposed changes, and the Ministry of Justice should decide on the request.


Obradovic warned about the introduction of a tort opinion for the first time in the Criminal Code.


„If that is adopted, the prosecutor’s office declares ex officio the tort of opinion. I sued (the owner of the notorious pro-regime tabloid) Dragan Vucicevic for an offensive comment, and he defended himself in court, saying it was his opinion. What will it look like in practice? The key argument why this is not good is that the prosecutors should not decide whether someone has expressed an opinion, whether it is offensive and whether it has upset someone,“ Obradovic added.


Prelevic said that „the biggest victims (of the amended law) will be judges and prosecutors. It will make the prosecution a party whip, and some honourable people will not accept that. It is contrary to the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, as well as to the signed conventions.“


Obradovic said the amendments were a warning.


„We should have reacted much earlier and more fiercely to the proposed changes. Primarily the Independent Association of Serbia’s Journalists (IJAS) and the Independent Society of Vojvodina’s Journalist (NDNV). There were some reactions, but it seems that the whole process, in fact, passed by us,“ Obradovic said.


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