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Radio broadcast forcefully interrupted by political party militants; another station receives death threats

(ANEM/IFEX) - The following is an ANEM statement:

CALL FOR URGENT LEGAL ACTIONS AGAINST THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE INTERRUPTION OF "PESCANIK" RADIO PROGRAMME

BELGRADE, December 6, 2007 - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) condemns the continuing suppression of freedom of expression in Serbia.

On 3 December 2007 in Arandjelovac, a group of supporters of the Nova Srbija (New Serbia) political party interrupted and prevented the broadcast of a special political debate on Radio B92's programme "Pescanik". The group came from the nearby town of Topola, and was led by Dragan Jovanovic, a local government official. It was joined by supporters of the Serbian Radical Party and members of the non-governmental organization "Nasi", based in Arandjelovac. On the programme that was interrupted, Mirko Djordjevic, Vesna Rakic Vodinelic, Teofil Pancic, Miljenko Dereta and Petar Lukovic were to have presented their views. Radio B92 is a member of ANEM.

A similar incident occurred on 18 November, when the same programme was cancelled due to a similar action.

The New Serbia political party forms part of the current ruling coalition and is led by Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic. A spokesperson for the party confirmed on 5 December that they had organized their members to obstruct the radio programme, justifying the action as one aimed at protecting "national interests". Ilic stated that it was a "normal political fight", in which "some organize [a debate], and others prevent such a [debate]".

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution in Serbia, and the illegitimate denial or limitation of freedom of speech or freedom of assembly is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. ANEM thus expresses special concern for the fact that one of the ruling political parties publicly glorifies lawlessness and practically announces its intention to conduct new and similar activities to suppress freedom of expression. Of equal concern is the fact that their coalition partner, the political party led by Vojislav Kostunica, cannot be bothered to comment on this incident; this is difficult to interpret as anything other than tacit support for the prevailing climate of intolerance in this society.

Absence of a strong, unified reaction by the ruling coalition to such incidents, and the government's tolerance for acts of violence, have always been interpreted by extremist groups and individuals as a "green light" for even greater violence. This is corroborated in the official statement made by an ANEM member station, RTV B92, in which they wrote that, after the "Pescanik" broadcast was interrupted, their station received telephone calls and e-mail hate messages containing bomb and death threats.

ANEM thus invites members of the general public who value democratic ideals to express their severest condemnation of every attempt to suppress freedom of expression. ANEM also urges the relevant official institutions to initiate adequate legal proceedings immediately to protect the legal order of the country.

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