State Violence at July 2020 Protests as Crime Against the Civilian Population
With this review, we want to show how, starting from July 7, 2020, the state of Serbia, through its repressive and judicial apparatus, deliberately planned, organized and carried out very intense large-scale violence against civilians who tried to express their dissatisfaction by protesting on the streets of Belgrade and other cities.
We believe that the ruling oligarchy wanted to show through large-scale violence that it is untouchable and unpunishable, and that any attempt of the people to raise their voice against looting and state crime, injustice and state madness will be stifled by violence, if need be. We also believe that this brutal repression has repeatedly violated the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
To put the facts and individual cases, that we will present in this text, into an appropriate institutional context, it is necessary to point out the fact that the detachments of police thugs who were beating up people on the streets were commanded, personally and directly, by Ivan Ristic, assistant director of police.
In the pictures we can see, next to Ivan Ristic, the police officers and inspectors in civilian clothes. There is the least evidence of thugs in civilian clothes in the form of photographs and footage, because they usually hid in dark parks and hidden corners, but many who were arrested testified that they suffered terrible physical violence and abuse from these non-humans.
They were obviously instructed to arrest and beat up as many people as possible, so it seemed to the observers that they were competing between each other who is going to arrest or beat more people, and they did it entirely at random so that anyone who got in their way could get hurt, protester or not.
The video below shows plainclothes police beatings in Kragujevac (from the beginning of the video to the 36th second).
Deployment of SAJ (Special Anti-Terrorist Unit) Against the Civilian Population
The assumption of deliberate, planned and organized violence against the population is supported by the fact that on July 10, the fourth day of the protest, in addition to standard police armored vehicles from which tear gas was fired, the state leadership sent combat vehicles and units of the Special Antiterrorist Unit (SAJ). The video above, from the 36th second onwards, shows SAJ making their way through the crowd of demonstrators with a Hummer trucks, and it is a real miracle that none of the participants in the protest were killed under the wheels of their armored vehicles.
In full gear SAJ beat up bare-handed people, mostly children. We believe that the deployment of the SAJ against the civilian population in Belgrade is a serious indicator that the ruling oligarchy, through large-scale violence, wanted to show that it is untouchable and unpunishable, and that it will stifle any attempt of rebellion, without choosing means. By deploying the SAJ unit, the state is also sending a message that it sees young people and people in general as some terrorists, because it has sent an anti-terrorist unit to deal with them.
However, there is another side to this story, which shows the insecurity of the “untouchable” rulers and the need to cover up the loss of control over the situation in front of the population, their own supporters and elements of the state apparatus through increased repression. It is a public secret that the morale among the police was getting worse day by day. The policemen were brought from all parts of Serbia, regardless of whether they were ordinary policemen, or traffic policemen or the Gendarmery (a special unit inside Serbian police, its role can be compared to those of Russian OMON and former Ukrainian Berkut units). They were given uniforms and they were ordered to beat. A question arises as to whether the government, frightened by the possible disintegration of its repressive apparatus, decided to arrest and beat the largest number of people by then, on the fourth day of the protest, as well as to send SAJ with its armored vehicles and pure military brutality to put an end to the protest as soon as possible.
CS gas as a "Chemical War" Against the Population
When we talk about the police use of “tear gas” against the population, the first question to be asked is the exact composition of the poison gas that was thrown at the people in July 2020, because dozens of people who were exposed to this poison fainted during the protest. Later, a large number of people appeared on social networks to complain about various problems caused by inhaling “tear gas”, which was an immediate indication that a product more toxic than ordinary tear gas was really thrown on the streets of Belgrade.
In an effort to completely clear the area and prepare the terrain, the police first threw tear gas at people who were about 200 meters away from the cordon and that did not even have any possibility to confront the police. This is part of the police strategy of reaching the very core of the protest so that in the next step, after they manage to drove away most of the people, they could attack people in the first lines of the protest with full force.
At the same time, this means that poison gas is always fired first at those who have not endangered anyone in any way. The people soon learned to throw back the tear gas, and the police reacted by throwing a huge amount of tear gas at the people so that the cloud of poisonous gas would expand enough before anyone could return the canisters back to the police.
The fact that the tear gas entered the maternity hospital Narodni Front speaks best about those enormous quantities of thrown tear gas and the lack of reason of those who threw it. This way, instead of better meals and conditions in maternity hospitals, the future mothers received a free portion of poison from the government, in honor of their unborn children.
After that, the government and the regime media lied in an orchestrated way that the tear gas was actually thrown by the protesters, not the police, although this claim was not supported by anything at all and was totally absurd.
At the protests, the vast majority wore masks as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus, and in addition, it was noticeable that people were trying to keep their distance from each other.
The only case when was not possible to adhere to this measures between protestors was in the cases when the police threw tear gas at the people and when everyone had to run while suffocating from tear gas. Because of the tear gas, people were made to cough at one another, and also for the same reason their noses drooled and their eyes were full of tears.
In addition, there are testimonies from those arrested that the police forced a large number of people into a tiny area, where they had to be next to each other for hours, tied up and without adequate protection against coronavirus. So, everything that is necessary to accelerate the spread of the virus was done by the police.
Numerous statements by government officials blaming the protests for spreading the coronavirus could be heard. However, it is not difficult to conclude that if the corona was spread after the protests, it was spread primarily as a result of police actions during the protest.
Large-Scale Systemic Violence
Police violence accompanied the protests from the start. On the first day of protest, in a video circulated the Serbian internet, you can clearly see how police, without any reason, was beating up several young men who were sitting on a bench with their hands up.
This video became known as “beating the guys on the bench”.
Also, one of the recordings that marked the protests and caused a great deal of public attention is the one in which an entire police detachment has beaten up a man lying motionless on the street, with truncheons and boots. When this video was released, it was not known for a long time whether the man from this video survived or not.
Of all the cases of police savagery, the most striking is probably the case committed by the former head of the Criminal Police Department of the Police Administration in Novi Sad, Slobodan Drmanac. He knocked down a boy with autism from his bicycle without any reason or at least a warning, whom he then brutally beat. Of course, the poor kid, not only that wasn’t a protester, but he did not even know that the demonstrations were taking place – he was just used to riding a bicycle on this road. Officer Drmanac is a decorated member of the Ministry of the Interior, previously known for police brutality.
In the video below, after the 44th second, you can see the policeman knocking the boy off his bicycle and kicking his head with his boots.
Below you can watch another video of another police brutality from Novi Sad.
After all that has been said, we leave it to you to assess whether there was excessive use of force during the protests, especially in relation to what Zoran Pašalić, the alleged Protector of Citizens, stated, which is that the police did not use excessive force during the protests, except in individual cases.
After Beating – Arrest, After Arrest – Torture
Scenes of arrested children on the floor of the state parliament hall symbolically shows the very apparent abuse of institutions for the purposes of state violence and repression. The parliament has become a police station, in a state that has long been a police state.
And what about the footage below that shows the police using an ambulance as a police van for an unexpected attack on people from it?
Based on the numerous testimonies of those arrested, one gets the impression that most of them suffered some kind of torture – physical, psychological, and most often, both.
This can be corroborated and by this rare photograph of a man before and after his stay at the police station. It is evident what happened at the station.
The picture of a policeman in civilian clothes Ivan Rovčanin (below) pressing the head of one of the arrested with his leg is just one of many that speaks in favor of the view that police actually have done this kind of brutal actions towards the people during the protest.
There are a number of photos and footage of police officers squeezing people’s necks, or beating them on the head with batons, which is a direct and gross violation of the law. Would anyone from the police be able to explain why orders are issued and obeyed contrary to both reason and the law, and how the political interests behind this brutal violence over the civilian population can be justified?
Assess for yourself whether police treatment of detainees can be characterized as cruel treatment. How many dozens of similar examples have not been documented by cameras? We can only guess.
One of the arrested people, that were also just riding a bicycle, and were promptly sentenced to thirty days in prison with fabricated charges is Mario M. The police never returned his bicycle to him from which they took him off with a truncheon, and left him bruises all over his body as a souvenir. He is one of the few who had contacts with the media, so at least his story reached the public. You can find more information about this case here.
There are many examples, and it is estimated that more than 200 people were arrested, and many were only beaten and immediately released without any evidence that they were ever arrested.
We don’t have data on all of these people, nor is it possible to have data on all of them. We can only imagine what they did to some inexperienced children who are not in the least aware of their rights. We are horrified when we think about how these young people spent their nights in the police stations.
Prosecution and Media Lynch
After beatings in the street, arrests and torture in police stations, judicial persecution and media lynching followed.
Particular attention should be paid to people from judicial structures who wholeheartedly supported police violence. First of all, the “SNS judges” Goran Milutinović and Đuro Pavlica should be pointed out, who, after a short procedure, sentenced people without the right to a lawyer and with false witnesses to 30 and 60 days in prison each.
The media covered the case in which “judge” Goran Milutinović sentenced Igor Šljapić to 30 days, justifying it with the material damage that the city of Belgrade suffered during the demonstrations. Igor Šljapić is accused of insulting an officer, although this young man carried a banner with the inscription “Stop Violence” and did not offend anyone. The only witness in this express trial was the police officer who arrested him, and he never got the right to call a lawyer.
For the sake of comparison, Milutin Jelicic Jutka, state official received three months in prison for many years of sexual harassment, and former Minister Jasna Matic received seven months of house arrest for embezzling 40 million dinars (dinar is the official currency of Serbia) from the state budget.
One of the more extreme cases happened in Uzice, where the police arrested underage children who threw eggs at a banner with the image of president Aleksandar Vucic. After a short procedure, they received 30 days in prison each.
Apart from the judges who handed out prison sentences like candy, an integral part of the state violence was conducted by the regime media, which lead a campaign of lies and media lynching in the worst possible way.
In his media appearances, dr. Dragomir Dragutinovic stated that he would not treat anyone who participated and suffered injuries at the protests. We think that with this statement he shows that a patient’s health is not what matters to him the most, thus Dragutinović grossly violated his professional medical ethics and ranked himself among people unworthy to engage in health care.
Vladimir Đukanović, who is at the same time a SNS (ruling party) MP in the Serbian Parliament and a TV presenter on TV Copernicus K::CN, made comments in which he evidently expressed a desire to carry out state terror, he also directly encouraged the police human rights violations. His statement can be seen below:
In his talk show, while speaking to the viewer, he said that he could not say everything that he wants about the protests, but that his personal opinion is that all those who were protesting should be beaten up. “I would beat them; they wouldn’t know where they were. They would pee in their pants from the beating if I were the police. I would arrest them all to the last.”
A specially interesting is that Milorad Dodik, a member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed regret that the police did not use enough force and regret that in our country police officers cannot use firearms against the people as they can do that in America.