Human Rights Organizations React to Government’s Position on The Jewel of Medina

We the undersigned human rights organizations are alarmed at the expression of support of the Government of Serbia for the Islamic Community, which used pressure and threats to force the publisher of The Jewel of Medina to withdraw it from shops, thus showing ignorance and disrespect for human rights, and disregard for the state’s obligation to provide guarantees for the freedom of expression as “one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment.”

We the undersigned human rights organizations demand that the Government of Serbia make a public explanation of its statement of 16 September 2008 that “the publishing of this book, bearing in mind the complexity and sensitivity of the political situation in the World, is not in the interest of the Republic of Serbia in its struggle for the protection of its territorial integrity and sovereignty”, which brings us to the conclusion that the Government is ready to restrict fundamental human rights for the sake of political reasons and interests.

We the undersigned human rights organizations remind the Government of Serbia that, according to the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, which is binding upon the Republic of Serbia and its institutions, the freedom of expression, with strictly prescribed restrictions, is applicable not only to “information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.”

According to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the freedom of expression can rarely be subject to restrictions and only in order to protect the rights and reputation of others, public health, national security, and other similar principles. The European Court in its practice strictly defined each of these restrictions. Therefore, with regard to the restriction of the freedom of expression because of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of others, the Court concluded that “those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism.”

We the undersigned human rights organizations refer the Government to the reaction of the Republic of Serbia Ombudsman [3 September 2008] in relation to the withdrawal of The Jewel of Medina from shops, who said that human rights and freedoms represent the highest principles of a democratic society and that they cannot be subject to any formal or informal restrictions other then those prescribed by the Constitution and the laws.

Believing that the Government’s statement has far-reaching impact on the exercise of fundamental human rights in Serbia, human rights organizations suggest that the Government organize a public session in which it would discuss its position presented in its statement and let the public know who the experts and members of the Government are that took part in formulating the position of official Serbia, which represents a serious threat to the freedom of expression.

Fond za humanitarno pravo
Beogradski centar za ljudska prava
Centar za kulturnu dekontaminaciju
Centar za razvoj civilnih resursa
Centar za regionalizam
Građanska akcija Pančevo
Građanske inicijative
Inicijativa mladih za ljudska prava
Komitet pravnika za ljudska prava
Queeria – Centar za promociju kulture nenasilja i ravnopravnosti
Vojvodjanka – Regionalna zenska inicijativa i Festival o ljudskim pravima –VIVISECTfest
Žene u crnom