Government online censorship in Serbia worrying trend, says OSCE media freedom representative
STOCKHOLM, 27 May 2014 – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović today expressed concern over a worrying trend of online censorship in Serbia over the past week; and urged the authorities to nurture uncensored debate on issues of public interest, especially in times of crisis, such as the current situation with flooding in the region.
“I am deeply concerned about allegations that websites and online content are being blocked. This is a clear violation of the right to free expression. The Internet provides unparalleled opportunities to support these rights and is essential for the free flow and access to information. In times of crisis free flow of information is vital to allow people to assess the situation for themselves,” Mijatović said.
As the floods became severe, the Serbian government instated a state of emergency, which also gives authorities the power to detain individuals for “inciting panic during a state of emergency.”
Online content perceived as critical of the government’s reaction to the recent flooding in the country has been removed from several websites in Serbia. Entire websites such as “Druga strana” and “Teleprompter” were also temporarily disabled last week. Additionally, Dragan Todorović’s blog on the website of “Blic” daily was deleted last Friday.
Further, according to media reports three individuals have been detained, and 20 more people have been invited by the police for an interview for allegedly spreading panic with respect to the number of floods victims in Obrenovac.
“Arresting individuals because of their blogs, comments, or other forms of writing is not acceptable; it has a chilling effect on the general press freedom situation in the country and can lead to self-censorship. I urge the Serbian authorities to put an end to this, and stop interfering with the work of online media outlets,” Mijatovic said.
“My office stands ready to assist the authorities in any way necessary in order to ensure its actions are in line with OSCE commitments on media freedom.”
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, is participating in the Stockholm Internet Forum.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. She provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter: @OSCE_RFoM and on facebook.com/osce.rfom.