A UN expert on Monday expressed alarm over an upsurge in hate speech in Serbia since two mass shootings last month and urged the Balkan nation to take urgent measures against it.
“The shootings have traumatised the entire country,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.
“It is unconscionable to use this tragedy as yet another occasion to stir up hatred, demonising and vilifying independent media, human rights defenders, political opponents and others critical of the government,” added Khan, urging immediate and effective measures to curb divisive rhetoric.
Two mass shootings in Belgrade killed 18 people, including eight children, sparking mass protests.
The “Serbia against violence” protests have evolved into some of the largest rallies since widespread demonstrations triggered the fall of strongman Slobodan Milosevic more than two decades ago, ramping up pressure on populist President Aleksandar Vucic.
Vucic dismissed the protests as a “political” stunt, accusing foreign powers of orchestrating them while his allies mocked those who took to the streets.
A Belgrade court on Monday ordered the remanding in custody of journalist and writer Bosko Savkovic, who was arrested following Saturday’s demonstration by tens of thousands of people in the capital, according to The Association of Serbian Journalists.
Savkovic is accused of brandishing a banner and a hanged figurine bearing the likeness of Vucic at the rally, leading to his detention for “inciting violent destruction of constitutional order.”
Khan said protesters were demanding accountability for the crimes and lamented the government response to date.
“Rather than promoting justice and accountability, recent speeches -– including by members of the government -– appear to have encouraged harassment and even physical attacks against opposition politicians, journalists and activists,” said Khan.
On an official trip to Serbia in April, Khan had voiced concerns about populist media promoting and amplifying toxic statements by politicians and public officials.
Noting the “fundamental right” of freedom of expression Khan concluded that “the current climate of political discourse in Serbia is deeply disturbing.
She called on the government to “immediately investigate and sanction intimidation, threats and incitement to violence, especially by government officials.”