Serbia: Violent police crackdown against COVID-19 lockdown protesters must stop

Following footage showing a widspread violent crackdown against protesters in Serbia’s capital Belgrade and other major towns across the country, which left dozens of people injured, Amnesty International’s Balkans Researcher Jelena Sesar said: 

“Images of Serbian police firing tear gas and stun grenades indiscriminately into the crowd, and of protesters and bystanders being charged by mounted police and beaten by police in riot gear, raise serious concerns.

Heavy-handed measures of the kind we have seen infringe the rights of those protesting peacefully and will only increase tension and provoke hostility, leading to an escalation of the situation
Jelena Sesar, Amnesty International

“While the authorities have the responsibility to ensure public order and to respond to individual violent incidents, the disproportionate use of force against entire demonstrations is not justified. Heavy-handed measures of the kind we have seen over the past two days infringe the rights of those protesting peacefully and will only increase tension and provoke hostility, leading to an escalation of the situation.

“Serbian authorities must exercise restraint in further protests and the government must guarantee the safety and security of those who take the streets and ensure that people can exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of reprisals.

Serbian authorities must exercise restraint in further protests and the government must guarantee the safety and security of those who take the streets
Jelena Sesar, Amnesty International

“What is of additional concern are credible reports of police use of facial recognition cameras in Belgrade to identify protestors. Amnesty International opposes use of facial recognition technology for mass surveillance, such as at protests and demonstrations. The new technology is still largely unregulated and tends to disproportionately target specific groups of people, it can have a chilling effect on the right to protest.”

 

BACKGROUND

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Serbian capital Belgrade and other major towns across the country to protest against the government’s decision to re-impose weekend curfew following a new spike of COVID-19 infections. People protested over the government’s handling of the crisis, including the decision by President Vucic to lift original restrictions ahead of national elections on 21 June, which his party won overwhelmingly. 

On the first night of protests on Tuesday, a group of protesters tried to forcefully enter Parliament, prompting the use of tear gas and clashes which lasted into the morning. Dozens of protesters, including some bystanders and several accredited journalists, were injured in the violence.