The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL is deeply concerned about the treatment of protesters and bystanders by the Serbian police during the ongoing protests across the country. Specifically, we urge the Serbian authorities to undertake a thorough investigation and bring to justice the perpetrators of police brutality, on 8th July 2020 in Novi Sad, when a young autistic man was brutally attacked and beaten.
ENIL is a pan-European non-governmental organization, gathering disabled individuals and organizations of disabled people, promoting and advocating for independent living of all disabled people.
The footage of the incident shows the young man riding his bike in the central street of Novi Sad on the evening of the demonstrations. He is not taking part in the demonstrations himself. A police officer pushes him off his bicycle, while another police officer runs over to him and inflicts a blow with his knee to his head, then throws the bicycle.
ENIL joins the appeal by other NGOs addressed to the Serbian authorities, asking them to investigate the incident, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide redress to the young man who suffered physical injuries and psychological harm. We ask that he and his family are provided with the needed support services to cope with the consequences of any harm he suffered.
At the same time, it is important to prevent harmful comments, which shift the responsibility for the incident to the young man’s family, insinuating that he was supposed to be ‘under their control and supervision’. The family has pressed charges against the police, while the Association “Autism – Right to Life” urged the authorities to undertake an investigation.
Disabled people have the right to live independently and to be included in the community, and are entitled to the support they need for independent living. Disabled people, including autistic persons, are not ill and should not be restrained or put under ‘control’ or ‘supervision’ on the ground of their disability, but rather provided with the support and assistance to take part in society. This includes the right to protest and to participate in any other aspect of public life.
ENIL urges the Serbian Government to put an end to systematic police violence and brutality against peaceful protesters. We condemn any use of force, including blows to the head with police batons, the use of tear gas and beating of people lying on the pavement. Among others, such actions may cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs, have life-long consequences and in the worst case – cause death. We remind the Serbian authorities that the right to public assembly and peaceful protest is a human right guaranteed by international human rights law and that the role of the police force is to ensure everyone has the right to protest, including disabled people instead of attacking evidently non-violent protesters.
The statement is endorsed by:
European Network on Independent Living (ENIL);
Center Living Upright, Novi Sad;
Center for Independent Living of Persons with Disabilities of Serbia, Belgrade.
Notes on the context:
In Serbia, thousands took to the streets on 7 July 2020 as President Aleksandar Vučić announced a decision to re-impose weekend curfews amidst a surge in the number of COVID-19 related infections and deaths. Protests that started in Belgrade have spread to other cities, including Nis, Kragujevac and Novi Sad. More than 70 people have been detained (some of them expediently sentenced to prison despite the lack of evidence) and more than 20 injured.
The Serbian authorities have been using force to disperse protesters. Multiple media footage shows violent attacks on protesters by the police, using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesting crowds.