Mayor Threatens Journalists With Impunity

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) is deeply concerned at the failure of the competent state bodies and political parties to react to the abusive and inappropriate behavior of Velimir Ilić, leader of the New Serbia party and mayor of Čačak. Ilić openly threatens journalists who write about his involvement in shady business dealings, and has made threats against Duga reporter Želimir Marković and his family on several occasions.

When Marković’s article on the death of workers in an industrial accident at the Milan Blagojević plant in Lučani near Čačak and smuggling of gunpowder to Romania appeared in Duga in May 2001, Mayor Ilić telephoned the reporter several times and threatened to “kill and destroy” him and his family if he continued investigating and writing about the plant’s operations.

In the presence of Marković’s colleagues and using extremely abusive language, Mayor Ilić warned him leave alone the plant’s director Radoš Milovanović and Yugoslav Army general Ivan Djokić, saying that they were his men and, “Who attacks them, attacks me!”

Marković told the HLC on 15 November that he receives anonymous threats by phone almost every night.

The plant’s director sued Marković for damages and libel because of the Duga article. Although Marković says he did not receive any summons from the court, two policemen came to his apartment at 4.30 a.m. on 12 November this year. When Marković opened the door and asked what the problem was, they told him he was to go with them and everything would be explained to him. Marković at first refused, but when the police warned him they would use force to take him in, he accompanied them to the police station. He was held there for four hours before being taken to the Second Municipal Court where he was told he had been brought in for ignoring the court’s summonses.

In this case, the police violated the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires them to present a warrant when executing a court order to bring in a person who has failed to appear in court when summoned. Serbia’s Independent Association of Journalists has protested against this unlawful police conduct and threat to the freedom of the press.

Marković is not the only journalist who has been the target of threats and abuse for writing about the Čačak mayor’s business dealings and political activities. Responding to accusations that he had instigated the breaking of windows at a local radio station in Čačak on 28 March 2002, Mayor Ilić said: “We aren’t some petty Gypsies; where we have passed, no grass grows.”

At a press conference at the Čačak City Hall on 6 August the same year, Mayor Ilić called Milena Marković, correspondent for the Belgrade evening paper Večernje Novosti, a “Belgrade teenager and drug addict.” He added that the paper’s director and editor-in-chief Manojlo Vukotić was a “disgrace to Serbian journalism” who could be “bought for 100 [deutsche] marks and a bottle of beer.”

Reacting to a statement by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojša Čović, Ilić in July this year used vulgar and abusive language about Belgrade’s Studio B TV reporters and said he would throw them all out the window.

On 11 October, talk show host Jelena Katanić was forced to break off a program on TV Čačak when Mayor Ilić, angered by suggestions that Sredoje Šljukić, a convicted criminal, had been a member of his party, phoned in and insulted Katanić. The next day Ilić came to the TV station with his bodyguards and continued his verbal assault on Katanić.

Velimir Ilić also has no compunction about using his personal animosity toward minorities to besmirch his political opponents. During the recent Serbian presidential campaign, he maintained that ethnic diversity was a potential source of conflict and spoke disparagingly of ethnic Albanians, Bosniacs as well as Jews, the latter in order to discredit Miroljub Labus, one of the presidential candidates. The police and prosecutors have not reacted to Velimir Ilić’s incitement of hate, and violent and abusive behavior.