The US State Department said in its 2021 report on human rights in Serbia that there were significant human rights issues in the country with some members of the security forces committing abuses.
“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; numerous acts of serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals,” the report said.
It said that observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, attacks on civil society, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.
It said the police routinely beat detainees and harassed suspects, usually during arrest or initial detention with a view towards obtaining a confession, notwithstanding that such evidence is not permissible in court. “Police corruption and impunity remained problems, despite some progress on holding corrupt police officials accountable,” it added.
The report noted that prison conditions were sometimes harsh due to physical abuse and overcrowding. “Despite improvements to pretrial procedures, prolonged pretrial confinement remained a problem,” the report said.
The report said that Serbian courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence with political pressure remaining a cause for concern following reports of government pressure against people critical of the judiciary. “Government officials and members of parliament continued to comment publicly regarding ongoing investigations, court proceedings, or on the work of individual judges and prosecutors,” it said.
It said that there were reports that the government failed to respect prohibitions on interfering with correspondence and communications with the police frequently failing to respect the law in that regard. Human rights activists and NGOs reported a lack of effective parliamentary oversight of security agencies, the report said.
It noted a lack of transparency of media ownership and added that the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector as well as threats and attacks on journalists undermined freedom of expression and the media and limited the ability of independent media to express a wide variety of views. “Tabloids remained popular and powerful conduits of disinformation,” it said and noted that United Group’s Nova newspaper had to be printed in neighboring Croatia because no one was willing to print it in Serbia.
It said that there were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on several issues with economic pressure sometimes leading media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government due to a fear of government harassment or economic consequences, according to media association representatives.
“During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. NGOs and their employees received frequent threats that often mirrored or amplified rhetoric employed by public figures on social media. They were often targeted by distributed denial of service attacks against their websites,” it added.
“Although the internet remained unrestricted, the law obliges telecommunications operators to retain certain data for one year, including the source and destination of a communication; the beginning, duration, and end of a communication; the type of communication; terminal equipment identification; and the location of the customer’s mobile terminal equipment. While intelligence agencies may access this metadata without court permission, the law requires a court order to access the contents of these communications,” the report said.
The report said that there were numerous reported cases of indictments or convictions for corruption, although rule-of-law-focused NGOs noted that convictions in high-profile cases were exceedingly rare, which they claimed led to impunity for corrupt high-ranking public officials.
According to the report the Serbian government did not enforce the law effectively in cases of rape of women and domestic violence and quoted the ombudsman who said that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risk of violence against women with disabilities, older women, women in rural areas, and Romani women. :According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not considered serious harassment,” it said.
The report said that Roma and ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination with the addresses of numerous Albanians from three municipalities in southern Serbia were “passivized” (rescinded), resulting in the loss of personal documents and access to health, educational, and social services.