The threats and insults Zoran Čegar, the head of the FBiH PA Uniformed Police Division, directed at the reporters of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) late last month were condemned by many media organizations and international institutions, which called on the authorities to protect journalists.
Čegar threatened journalists on two occasions, which CIN reported to several police authorities both in BiH and Croatia, as well as to the competent prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo.
CIN released a story about Čegar registering in the Cadastre of Ilijaš Municipality as the owner of someone else’s land by presenting documentation notarized in Loznica, which the Public Notary Chamber of Serbia described as “a gross forgery”. Also, CIN reporters discovered that Čegar kept from the police in Sarajevo that he was accused of fraud in Croatia and that he was about to sit a trial before the Municipal Court in Dubrovnik. The State Attorney’s Office in Dubrovnik charges Čegar with defrauding the boat and car rental company “Prožura” from the island of Mljet for EUR 20,000.
Before releasing the story, CIN journalists called Čegar for an interview on October 4. However, he refused to talk, uttering threats and curses at journalists. Alluding to his position, he said that “various people kept him informed about journalists’ whereabouts and work”. “I know everything, I’m not running a tobacco shop!”.
“Don’t you even think about calling me again, do not make me come to the place where you’re calling me from“, Čegar added at the end of the conversation.
The threats were reported the same day to the Police Station “Centar”, part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sarajevo Canton (MUPKS).
A similar attack on journalists occurred in front of the Dubrovnik Municipal Court on October 26, where Čegar’s fraud trial began. After the reporter asked Čegar for a comment, he started insulting him: “Who are you? Who gave you the right? You know what are you? You’re a dick! Rubbish!”
Then he addressed the CIN female journalist: “Do you have any idea who you’re playing with you fool? Don’t make me rip your throat out! Write honorably, honestly and what have you, but don’t insult me, and don’t lie! Did you hear me?“
Not long after, he attacked the journalist again with threats: “You’re laughing into my face, you Chetnik, you motherfucker! I’ll rip your throat out!”
Journalists reported these threats to the Police in Dubrovnik on the same day.
The threats were subsequently reported to the Ministry of Interior of Sarajevo Canton as well as to the FBiH Police Professional Standards Unit. CIN also informed the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo about these events.
Following the release of the investigative story and information about the attacks on journalists, the FBiH Minister of the Interior (FUP), Aljoša Čampara, requested the suspension of the head of the FBiHPA Uniformed Police Division. He claimed he did so due to threats to journalists, falsifying documents, and a fraud indictment filed against Čegar.
In parallel, the FUP announced that prompted by information released in the media, an internal investigation was launched against a high-ranking police officer who was “adversely related and linked to the incriminated persons”. The FUP statement did not specify which police officer it was, but it was emphasized that an internal investigation would be conducted promptly.
Condemnation of threats to investigative journalists
The attack on CIN journalists was registered in the “Mapping Media Freedom” database of the European Center for Press and Media Freedom. This database documents press and media freedom violations across Europe, and the documented incidents are publicly accessible.
Also, many domestic and international institutions condemned the attacks and threats of the high-ranking police officer Čegar against CIN journalists.
The latest in the series of condemnations is an open letter from the European Parliament signed by 21 representatives. In their address, they strongly condemned Čegar’s attack on journalists in front of the Municipal Court in Dubrovnik and called on the European Commission to also condemn this act and to request the protection of journalists.
The Association BH novinari called on the authorities to immediately sanction the police officer Čegar for threatening CIN journalists.
“Such monstrous threats and insults to journalists come from a high-ranking person in the police hierarchy, who should be responsible for law enforcement and protecting citizens from all kinds of brutality, physical and verbal attacks, and not be the one who will attack and threaten!”, says the announcement of the Association.
The Press Council of BiH also reacted, strongly condemning the attacks on CIN journalists: “Preventing journalists from performing their duty, especially in such a harsh manner, is to be vehemently condemned.”
“SafeJournalists Network”, the regional platform for advocating media freedom and journalists’ safety in the Western Balkans, not only condemned these incidents but also indicated that they will inform thereon the relevant domestic and international institutions, while Reporters Without Borders urged that Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina must ensure the protection of journalists.
The news about the attack on CIN journalists was reported by many media and television stations in BiH and the region, but also in the world.