Seated at a table with his wife and a colleague in the small town of Leskovac, Dragan Marinkovic was looking forward to a meal at his favorite restaurant.
Then a stranger approached and started to threaten Marinkovic, who is executive editor of the Serbian news website Resetka.
The reason, Marinkovic told VOA’s Serbian Service: a story Resetka had published about the death of a bodyguard who was assigned to a city official.
Threats are not uncommon for journalists in Serbia.
“Anyone can come to you on a street, or wherever, slap you a couple of times, and get away with it [even] while you are accompanied with friends or family,” said Marinkovic.
The Council of Europe (COE) platform to promote the protection of journalism has cited Marinkovic’s case and those of two other Serbian journalists threatened in recent months.
Dragojlo Blagojević, the editor of the magazine DrvoTehnika, received death threats in an anonymous call in July after reporting on the logging industry; and hooligans threatened Brankica Stankovic, of Insajder TV, during a basketball game in May.
Free expression and media rights groups have also separately pointed to a deteriorating climate for journalism in the country.
In Marinkovic’s case from March, the journalist says the man verbally assaulted him and made death threats.
At first, Marinkovic tried to reason with the stranger.
“We tried to talk to [the] person who approached. He started threatening and mentioning an influential local politician,” Marinkovic said, declining to name the politician. “I telephoned the local politician to ask why a man was bothering us.”
At that point, Marinkovic said, the assailant grabbed the journalist’s phone and left the restaurant.
“He came back after several minutes, continued with threats, so we left,” Marinkovic said.
Marinkovic was able to retrieve his phone, and he later wrote an editorial about the encounter.
That resulted in the police and a local prosecutor’s office investigating. But so far, he said, there have been no updates.
Threats are a regular challenge for local journalists in Serbia, Marinkovic said. He has experienced three similar incidents.
In nearly all cases, he said, authorities are not able to identify the suspects “so the investigation goes blunt.”