Serbia: statement following police brutality at anti-government protests

In the aftermath of the protests that occured in Serbia this week, many demonstrators, journalists and organisations denounced the “most violent police repression since Milosevic era”. In this regard, the NGO Human Rights House network (Kuća ljudskih prava) issued a statement, condemning the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. Their attitude, it says, breaches many international treaties on freedom of assembly and can be assimilated to torture.

You can find below their statement, translated in English. The original article is available on Human Rights House network’s website.

The Human Rights House condemns police brutality during last night’s protests in Belgrade. The disproportionate use of force was recorded in a large number of recordings, both by N1 television and by the citizens who took part in the protests. It was noted that the police repeatedly beat people who were standing or sitting on benches for no reason, as well as violent behavior by officers in civilian, which needs to be investigated. The reaction by the police violates freedom of assembly and includes acts of torture.

It is obvious that the greatest degree of violence occurred after the police started using a disproportionate amount of tear gas to disperse the citizens who protested peacefully for the most part. Police have a number of injured police officers and horses, but the total number of injured citizens is likely to remain unknown, due to the current situation with the Coronavirus and the inability or reluctance of citizens to call medical services. The measures taken by the police are unprecedented in Serbia.

A police statement stating that an analysis will be carried out and that it will be determined who is responsible for organising the protest is very worrying. The protest held yesterday obviously falls under the category of spontaneous protests that are foreseen by the Law on Public Gathering, and it represents the reaction of the citizens to the press conference held on Monday (6 July) by President Aleksandar Vučić. The police stateement indicates the possibility of further illegitimate proceedings against citizens who participated in the rally, and the arbitrary targeting of undesirable individuals seriously endangers the rule of law and human rights.

The organisations gathered in the Human Rights House will, in accordance with the areas they cover, gather all available information in order to create the fullest possible reporting to the domestic, international public and competent institutions. They will also provide legal assistance to citizens whose rights were violated during the protest.

We urge the police, the prosecution and other relevant State institutions to react in accordance with their competencies, to refrain from excessive use of coercive measures, and to react to the likely continuation of protests in the coming days in accordance with the rule of law, while respecting basic human rights. .