The downgrade is based on an assessment of conditions for the exercise of the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression on the CIVICUS Monitor.
CIVICUS has today downgraded Serbia’s civic space rating from Narrowed to Obstructed. The decision was taken following a thorough assessment of the state of civic freedoms in the country as protected by international law. The downgrade follows CIVICUS’ regular monitoring of the situation with our members and partners, after the government has taken a number of steps to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society groups. The decision comes after over two years of rule by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), during which the space for civil society has come under concerted attack. The cumulative impact of threats, smears and the threat of physical attacks against civil society have led to the Serbia’s downgrade in the CIVICUS Monitor. An Obstructed rating indicates a situation where the state imposes a variety of legal and extra-legal restrictions on civil society through demeaning statements and bureaucratic restrictions.
“The Serbian government appears intent on turning its back on civic freedoms, by allowing and enabling numerous abuses against civil society to go unpunished,” said Dominic Perera, Civic Space Research Advisor at CIVICUS. “Serbia has witnessed a steady decline in civic space through smear campaigns and threats directed at critics of the government coupled with a worryingly sharp increase in attacks against journalists.”
The downgrade takes place against the backdrop of widespread protests which took place across Serbia for much of 2019. In this environment, the government has ramped up tactics designed to intimidate those who question power holders, especially on contentious issues such as corruption. Instead of conducting thorough and impartial investigations into abuses of power, public officials have doubled down on their efforts to publicly discredit journalists and organisations working to promote social justice. This includes several prominent members of the SNS party openly accusing anti-corruption activists of working to promote foreign interests for acting as government watchdogs.
Freedom of expression has also experienced a rapid decline, with the number of attacks against journalists doubling since 2016, rising to 77 separate incidents in 2018 alone. This is further compounded by the government’s appropriation of media outlets, which has led to a situation where investigative journalists and news programmes have been mysteriously taken off air or fired. This alarming combination of tactics signals a closure of spaces for independent dissent.
Meanwhile, the number of government-affiliated NGOs has soared. These state sponsored organisations often orchestrate smear campaigns against independent organisations and activists which criticise the government.
“CIVICUS calls on the Serbian authorities to halt the erosion of spaces for dissent”, said Perera. “We call on the government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and to heed the calls of civil society and the EU to promote an enabling environment for civil society.”
Serbia is now rated Obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor. Visit Serbia’s homepage for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates. In December 2019, CIVICUS will release People Power Under Attack 2019 - a global analysis on the threats and trends facing civil society in 196 countries.