The stepped-up violence by the Serbian and FR Yugoslavia authorities against political opponents following the calling of the presidential and federal elections threatened fundamental human rights and liberties. The election campaign in Serbia is marked by daily arrests of activists of the Otpor (Resistance) movement, non-governmental organizations, and members of opposition political parties.
Research by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) brought out that about 2,500 persons were detained by police from early May to mid-September, of whom 2,000 Otpor activists, 400 opposition party members, and 100 activists of non-governmental organizations. The majority were up to 25 years old and included about 200 minors between the ages of 16 and 18. Some 300 Otpor activists were detained five or more times. Information gathered by the HLC indicates that police took in about 20 Otpor activists and other active participants in the election campaign every day from 1-15 September. Cases of police brutality against Otpor activists and others were also registered; 19 persons were physically abused in this period alone. Police raided Otpor offices and non-governmental organizations, seizing computers, address books, and lists of associates. The number of physical assaults by private citizens on Otpor activists and others involved in the election campaign of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), Otpor’s campaign “He’s Finished,” and the “It’s Time” campaign of non-governmental organizations also rose noticeably.
The formal reasons for the massive police action against Otpor were the 2 May incident in Požarevac when three Otpor activists were arrested for allegedly attempting to murder a member of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) party, and the murder of Boško Perošević, the President of the Executive Council of Vojvodina and ranking official of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), in Novi Sad on 13 May. Without any grounds, the police used the murder of Perošević as an excuse to detain Otpor activists and opposition party members in great number and to search their homes. The police action against Otpor activists further intensified on 9 June when the Federal Ministry of Justice refused to enter Otpor in the Register of Associations, in contravention of the constitutional principles and guarantees of fundamental human rights and liberties. With this decision, the authorities demonstrated their readiness to eliminate an entire generation of young people from social and political life. Described as a group which acts against national security interests, these young people were consigned to the police to deal with.