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New law violates security of journalists' sources; B92 reporter receives death threats

Serbian national security and police forces have been given the power to view the contents of citizens' personal email accounts without permission as a result of a new law adopted by parliament on 29 June, reports the International Press Institute (IPI). The legal system has also left journalists vulnerable to attacks with a recent court decision to reject charges against six people who allegedly threatened to murder a B92 reporter, says the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM).

Serbian parliament accepted the new Electronic Communications Law in order to establish a database on personal electronic communications of citizens. Serbian President Boris Tadic signed the law despite warnings by critics that it is unconstitutional, threatens freedom of expression and undermines the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of IPI, said: "Journalists in Serbia are particularly vulnerable to state efforts to access their personal data, especially in relation to attempts to identify their sources."

The law endangers investigative reporting and comes after the courts acquitted six people in April who threatened to kill Serbian journalist Brankica Stankovic. The B92 reporter and a team of investigative reporters received several death threats while reporting on the activities of the leaders of extremist football fan clubs. The individuals had chanted that Stankovic would end up like Slavko Curuvija, a Serbian journalist who was shot in front of his apartment and whose killers were never found. They also kicked and punched a doll made in her image.

"Verbal threats are dangerous, especially if they come from organised groups such as the extremist football fans, and should not be underestimated. It is worrying that, on the one hand, Stankovic receives police protection as her life may be in danger, but, on the other hand, the Serbian Court of First Instance decides otherwise and sees the threats that were made as a private insult and not a death threat," said SEEMO and IPI.

The trivialisation of such threats in domestic courts tells the media that certain topics should not be publicly discussed, reports ANEM, jeopardising free expression and denying the public's right to know.

Read ANEM's latest monthly monitoring report on the media situation in the country:

Twelfth Monitoring Report
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