Serbia: Police violence against COVID-19 protesters must end

Tear gas and stun grenades fired indiscriminately into crowds

“The disproportionate use of force against entire demonstrations is not justified” – Jelena Sesar

Police violence against COVID-19 protesters in Serbia must stop, Amnesty International said today, after dozens of people were injured following a violent crackdown across the country.

The organisation is concerned by the indiscriminate firing of tear gas and stun grenades into crowds, as well as images of protesters being charged by mounted police in Belgrade and other major towns.

In recent days, thousands of people have taken part in public protests against the government’s decision to re-impose a weekend curfew following a new spike of COVID-19 infections.

On Tuesday, a group of protesters tried to forcefully enter Parliament, prompting the use of tear gas and clashes. Dozens of protesters, including some bystanders and several accredited journalists, were injured in the violence.

Jelena Sesar, Amnesty International’s Balkans Researcher, said: 

“Images of Serbian police firing tear gas and stun grenades indiscriminately into the crowd, and of protesters and bystanders being charged by mounted police and beaten by police in riot gear, raise serious concerns.

“The disproportionate use of force against entire demonstrations is not justified. Heavy-handed measures infringe the rights of those protesting peacefully and will only increase tension and provoke hostility, leading to an escalation of the situation.

“Serbian authorities must exercise restraint in further protests and the government must guarantee the safety and security of those who take the streets and ensure that people can exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of reprisals.”

Amnesty is also concerned over “credible reports” of police use of facial recognition cameras in Belgrade to identify protestors.

Jelena Sesar, said:

“Amnesty International opposes use of facial recognition technology for mass surveillance, such as at protests and demonstrations. The new technology is still largely unregulated and tends to disproportionally target specific groups of people, it can have a chilling effect on the right to protest.”

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