Serbian opposition activists have blockaded the entrance of the building hosting the state Radio and Television service (RTS) in Belgrade to protest what they say are deteriorating media freedoms in the Balkan country under populist President Aleksandar Vucic.
Members of the Alliance of Serbia (SzS), an opposition umbrella group, began the eight-hour blockade at noon in the capital on December 13, holding a banner reading “EU, It’s Your Choice: Vucic Or Democracy” in both English and Serbian.
Serbian independent media have repeatedly complained of being pressured by officials and have accused the government of fueling an atmosphere of intolerance toward journalists.
Vucic, who vowed to lead Serbia toward European Union membership, has been accused of curbing media freedoms and democracy, accusations he has denied.
The activists called on RTS to “perform its role and inform the public on all issues that matter.”
Vuk Jeremic, the leader of the People’s Party and the SzS chairman, said the protesters had no intention of entering the building and that they were not seeking personnel changes.
Jeremic told a news conference that “members of SzS organizations, activists, and citizens” blocked the entrance because the RTS, as he put it, “has been blocking the truth for the past eight years.”
Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party ascended to power in 2012. Vucic has been president since 2017 and his government has strengthened relations with traditional Slavic ally Russia.
Jeremic also said that the move was a “warning” to RTS journalists that they “should do their job professionally.”
He said that while the blockade was peaceful, participants were concerned about possible provocateurs “sent by Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party.”
Police refused to sanction the protest because the request was not filed at least five days in advance, Jeremic said.
The rally came a day after a few dozen Serbian journalists staged a protest in Belgrade against what they said were deteriorating media freedoms under Vucic.
Members of the Independent Journalists’ Association said there have been more than 100 cases of pressure and attacks on the media in the past year alone.
The protest also marked a year since the house of journalist Milan Jovanovic was torched outside Belgrade. Jovanovic was investigating alleged local government corruption. He escaped the fire, but his home burned to the ground.
The suspected arsonists are currently on trial. A senior official in Vucic’s ruling party has been accused of ordering the attack, which he has denied.