Pro-government tabloids in Serbia launched on Friday a smear campaign against independent investigative outlet KRIK
After it published transcripts from the prosecutor’s questioning of the suspected leader of a brutal criminal group who claimed the country’s President Aleksandar Vucic repeatedly asked him for favors.
Veljko Belivuk, aka Velja Nevolja (Velja the Trouble), was recently arrested and accused of heading a criminal gang that according to authorities was responsible for several murders and has most likely used an industrial meat grinder to get rid of the bodies of its victims.
The Crime and Corruption Reporting Network KRIK published on Thursday parts of Belivuk’s statements during the questioning in which he described how President Vučić and allies had asked him to keep soccer fans during matches from chanting slogans against the president, to intimidate anti-government protesters, make sure a gay parade is held without incidents and prevent cab drivers in Belgrade from protesting against the introduction of a mobile phone application.
Vučić immediately denied he ever met Belivuk, stating that he was prepared to go to jail and pay for his time there if Belivuk’s allegations turn out to be true.
The next day, however, headlines in tabloids believed to be controlled by Vučić’s government accused KRIK reporters of working with Belivuk’s gang to overthrow the president.
“KRIK fired the first shot” at Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, according to the tabloid Informer, which said KRIK had put Vučić’s life in jeopardy by “cooperating” with the Serbian gang.
According to Objektiv, another pro-government media outlet, KRIK is a “mafia-slaughtering” group.
The attacks against KRIK are a reaction to Thursday’s revelations about Belivuk’s ties with government people, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, Stevan Dojčinović, told the OCCRP.
“Now they’re accusing us of being a mafia-slaughter portal since we ‘work’ with the boss of one of the region’s most vicious gangs,” he explained.
Dojčinović reminded that KRIK was actually the first media in Serbia to write about Belivuk’s gang and it did so long before he was arrested and when nobody else dared to write about him.
Serbia’s Coalition for the Freedom of Media, which gathers six media associations, condemned the pro-government media attack against KRIK, describing it as an orchestrated criminalization, disparaging, and targeting campaign against KRIK journalists and editors, who have been turned into targets in a lynching environment.
“Such campaigns have become an everyday occurrence for journalists and independent media in Serbia. Politicians, MPs, and high-ranking state officials participate in them, sparing no word when it comes to attacks on independent media,” the Coalition said.
Veljko Belivuk has been known as the leader of “Principi” — a fan club of soccer club Partizan — but also a member of one of two Montenegro’s notorious criminal clans — Kavač.
In a wide anti-mafia operation, Serbian law enforcement in February arrested Belivuk and another 16 people suspected of being members of an organized group that committed serious crimes, including kidnappings and murders.
Soon after those arrests, KRIK was also exposed to a similar smear campaign in which its reporters were accused of working for Belivuk, just because they published an investigation claiming that members of the Kavač clan were once aligned with the government and President Vučić’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party.