Nine activists of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights and My Initiative Activists’ Movement were physically assaulted on January 17th in Beška Municipality in Vojvodina, (northern province of Serbia) during public debate organized by the Government ruling party – Serbian Progressive Party. These activists were beaten at the debate while protesting against the fact that convicted war criminal Veselin Šljivančanin* was speaker at the debate held in local Cultural Center.

In the moment when Šljivančanin started speaking, YIHR activists pulled out the banner with message „May War Criminals Fall Silent and Victims Speak Out” while blowing whistles at the same time. This gesture of YIHR activists automatically caused the reaction of persons present at the event (members of the local branch of the Serbian Progressive Party) who destroyed the banner, started physical assault against activists and forced them out. The violence culminated outside the premises in which the event took part. Activists were exposed to severe violence at the corridor and outside of the Cultural Center by few male persons. These men also damaged one of the vehicles in possession of YIHR activists while they were trying to escape. The incident occurred right in front of the local police station.

When the violence was terminated, YIHR asked for assistance from police. Police officers offered medical assistance to injured activists. Two of them were immediately transferred to local emergency in order to check the level of injuries. The others stayed in police station where they were identified by police officers and questioned about the incident. Local police officers were soon joined by the Chief of the Police Station in Inđija – regional center of this part of Vojvodina.

At the end YIHR activists were asked by the police to leave Beška, without any police note on collected information regarding the incident and with a threat that they will be deprived of police escort to Belgrade despite the fact that one vehicles was seriously damaged and not safe to be used for transportation of people.

While activists were exposed to unpleasant attitude by the Chief of the Police Station in Inđija who possessed the lighter with the logo of Serbian Progressive Party visibly placed at the table, the ruling party issued press release in which they marked activists as a fascist movement and hooligans. They called upon the authorities to arrest activists since they present a threat to peace and order. This press release was followed by media reports about the Mayor of the Inđija Municipality (present at the debate) stating that YIHR activists provoked the violence therefore they are responsible for what happened at the event. He added that YIHR activists invented the story about being physically assaulted and they themselves damaged the vehicle what was witness by the local police. The Minister of Interior Nebojša Stefanović stated this morning that YIHR activists should be held responsible for the incident they provoked mentioning few persons who allegedly reported injuries caused by YIHR activists.

In last two weeks YIHR reacted on few occasions when Serbian Progressive Party and official institutions of the Republic of Serbia were providing space for convicted war criminals to be heard in public space. Despite the reaction of civil society, persons convicted for war crimes were hosted at the meeting in the Presidency as well as at the events organized by the Serbian Progressive Party. It is evident that those persons are being used in the light of campaign for presidential elections announced for March this year.

YIHR believes that in Serbian public sphere, it is necessary to fight the state of denial about the responsibility for crimes that were committed during 90’s in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. YIHR insists that the platform for the voice of the victims must be established.

*Veselin Šljivančanin was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes that occurred in 1991 during war in Croatia.