Serb police close down last free television station

Opponents of Slobodan Milosevic say the silencing of independent media marks the first step to a state of emergency

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic

18 May 2000

Belgrade - The full weight of the Serbian state cracked down yesterday against opponents of the regime, when dozens of police took over the premises of Studio B radio and television in Belgrade, silencing independent outlets serving half of Serbia.

An official statement read out on Studio B said the government decided to take over the station at 2am after it had "called for the violent overthrow of the legitimate authorities". The statement was signed by two deputy prime ministers: the ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj and Milovan Bojic, a leader of the powerful party of Mira Markovic, the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's wife.

Mr Milosevic's government had been threatening a crackdown on opposition forces since Saturday's killing of a senior official, Bosko Perosevic, in the northern city of Novi Sad. Authorities have blamed the opposition but pro-democracy leaders deny the charges.

Dragan Kojadinovic, Studio B's manager, said there were no legal grounds for the takeover of his station and branded it "the beginning of a state of emergency". Vladan Batic, one of the opposition leaders, agreed, saying: "The government has imposed an informal state of emergency. This means the beginning of civil war in Serbia."

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe condemned the move and called on Belgrade to stop repression of free speech. "It is almost impossible to comprehend that a European state at the beginning of the 21st century can act in such a totalitarian way," said Freimut Duve, the OSCE's representative for freedom of the media.

Studio B is controlled by local authorities in the capital, and run by the biggest opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic. The station planned to broadcast a news programme from the city hall yesterday, following a protest rally organised by the opposition.

The Serbian government held an emergency session following the seizure, amid speculation that it would announce a formal clampdown. But there was no announcement.

Studio B's offices are in a building which also houses the independent B2 92 radio station, the privately owned Blic daily newspaper, which has the largest circulation in Serbia, and Index Radio, popular with students. B2 92 had used some Studio B frequencies after the original B 92 was taken over by the government during the Nato air raids last year.

Music was being played on Studio B's radio waves yesterday, while films were shown on television. The only news broadcast was from the state-controlled Tanjug news agency. Media staff were told by plainclothes police officers "not to circulate" from their offices.

The last major event aired by Studio B and other independent media was Monday's opposition rally in Belgrade, called to protest against the government's obstruction of another demonstration that was to have been held last week in Pozarevac, Mr Milosevic's home town.

The broadcasting takeover followed a series of daily threats by top government officials against opponents of the regime after the killing of Mr Perosevic, who headed the government of the northern province of Vojvodina.

Ivan Markovic, a senior official of Mrs Markovic's JUL party, said Mr Draskovic and other opposition leaders were ready to pay "total obedience towards American führers of neo-fascism", with a programme of "terrorism and killings".

Original article