Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has defended an investigation into alleged money laundering and terrorism funding launched against dozens of rights groups and independent journalists critical of his government's policies.
The Finance Ministry has requested bank information since the start of 2019 from 20 individuals and 37 nongovernmental organizations and institutions known for their work on human rights, transparency, and exposing corruption, according to documents published by TV Newsmax Adria Serbia on July 28.
The ministry’s order cites the need "to determine whether the listed organizations and individuals have anything to do with terrorist financing or money laundering."
In a press conference on July 30, Vucic denied that the probe is a targeted attack on critics, saying it’s a regular proceedure and that “everyone should be equal before the law.”
Vucic said that every country needs a strong civil society, but added that those who are being probed "are making noise to look like they are under threat and thus get more money from their donors."
But those on the list and others point out that the move is mostly targeted at government critics. The list includes individuals and organizations that have advocated for Serbia's EU accession and associated reforms.
Serbia is formally seeking EU membership, but under Vucic it has shifted close to Russia and China and their authoritarian style of leadership.
The list includes the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and Serbia’s two main journalist associations, as well as rights group such as the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Civic Initiatives.
The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade has voiced concern about “what appears to be a selective investigation.”
The embassy statement added that the United States remains ready to assist Serbia on its path toward European Union membership.
“However the impression that official Belgrade wants to suppress civil society or the freedom of the media will damage Serbia’s reputation and make it more difficult to make progress toward this goal of great value,” the statement said.
Rights group Amnesty International said that “the targeting of journalists and NGOs on absurd allegations of money laundering and financing terror is a blatant act of intimidation and the latest in an ongoing campaign by Serbian authorities to silence critics.”
Serbian President Defends Controversial Investigation Into NGOs, Other Critics