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Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has dismissed a letter written by several U.S. lawmakers criticizing the growth of corruption and decline of media freedom in the Balkan nation during his leadership.

Vucic said he doesn’t fear a U.S. asset freeze because, he claimed, he doesn’t own assets abroad. He also said he would repeat his “semilegal” purchase of ventilators for the country if necessary.

The United States “will not find any assets outside the country,” Vucic told media on November 7 when asked about the congressional letter.

Seven U.S. lawmakers -- all Democrats in the House of Representatives -- called on U.S. President Joe Biden to push Vucic to “combat corruption and attacks on freedom of the press” and impose asset freezes against certain Serbian individuals, if necessary.

The November 5 letter -- which was issued following a trip to Washington by Serbian opposition leader Dragan Djilas -- criticized Vucic’s self-declared quasi-black market purchase of ventilators last year, as well as the government’s preferential treatment of media favorable to its policies, as emblematic of corruption and declining press freedom.

The lawmakers also said the dealings of the majority state-owned Telekom Srbija have been “shrouded in secrecy.” Telekom Srbija has been scooping up media and cable companies, strengthening the state’s control over the sector.

The company has been accused of overpaying for some of the acquisitions.

“We urge you to consider using [executive sanctioning power] where appropriate to push for a more transparent and accountable Serbian government that respects democracies, human rights, and the rule of law,” the lawmakers said in their letter.

Vucic, who came to power in 2017, is up for reelection next year. The lawmakers urged the administration to hold Serbia “accountable to the highest standards of free and fair elections, including the campaign period ahead of the election and the vote count itself.”

The investigation in Rostov comes amid an explosive revelation of endemic torture in Russia’s prison system. (illustrative photo)

Russian prosecutors in the souther region of Rostov have opened a criminal investigation into the torture of inmates at a prison hospital, local rights activists said.

Igor Omelchenko, the chairman of the local Public Monitoring Commission, told Meduza news agency that the case was opened in September and focuses on the torture of prisoners at Interregional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 19.

Omelchenko said he was questioned by investigators on November 5 as a witness in the case and said that more than 60 victims are willing to testify in court.

Natalya Merkulova, the chairwoman of the commission, said that prisoners were tied to their bed for days. Russia law only permits prisoners to be tied down when they are receiving a medical injection.

Their organization first came forward with concerns about the torture of prisoners at the tuberculosis hospital in September 2020, but Omelchenko said the former regional prosecutor refused to open a case.

A new prosecutor took office in February and agreed to open a criminal case.

In a recent post on its Instagram page, the commission blamed the atmosphere of torture on the previous prison leadership and claimed that officers and workers who took part in the mistreatment were fired.

The investigation in Rostov comes amid an explosive revelation of endemic torture in Russia’s prison system.

A former inmate who was allowed to work with a penitentiary’s computer system downloaded dozens of videos of torture at various prisons in Russia and distributed them to media.

He is currently seeking asylum in France after Russia issued a warrant for his arrest.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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