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Serbian Journalist Detained, Questioned Over Critical Coronavirus Article

Ana Lalic was detained at her home.
Ana Lalic was detained at her home.

BELGRADE -- Serbian police detained a journalist who wrote a critical text on the handling of the coronavirus epidemic and released her on April 2 after interrogating her overnight.

The news site journalist Ana Lalic was detained at her home late on April 1, hours after she published an article that said medical staff at a hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad was lacking adequate protective gear.

The article, which quoted unnamed medical staff, also said that several nurses may have become infected and that the clinic lacked medication.

The hospital issued a denial and reported Lalic to police.

Lalic said "there are witnesses for everything I wrote" and that neither the hospital, nor the regional health authority responded to her questions before the publication of the article.

Her lawyer, Srdjan Kovacevic, said she was accused of disseminating false information and causing panic.

Her laptop and mobile phones were seized and were not returned upon her release, Kovacevic told RFE/RL.

It was not immediately clear whether she will be charged.

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, said he was “alarmed” that Lalic was detained over her reporting.

“Despite being released today, it is very problematic that police seized her laptop and mobile phones. Journalists need to be able to do their job freely,” Desir tweeted.

Serbia has 1,060 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 28 fatalities, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

On April 2, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the government would repeal a March 28 decree which allowed information related to the coronavirus outbreak to be published only if it comes from the national crisis-management task force.

The task force announces developments and plans during daily news conferences, while Brnabic and President Aleksandar Vucic make the important announcements such as extending lockdown measures.

Brnabic said the decree intended to "protect citizens from unverified information," but acknowledged that it may "cast doubts on what we are trying to accomplish."

Upon hearing the news, Lalic said, "If the decree was indeed repealed, it was worth the night in custody."

Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency on March 15 and parliament has been sidelined.

Vucic has assumed full power, prompting an outcry from opponents who say he has seized control of the state in an unconstitutional manner.

With reporting by and dpa