After the European Commission (EC), an MEP Tanja Fajon, Amnesty International, the European Union Delegation in Serbia and several local media, NGOs' and judicial organisations said the decision by the Finance Ministry's Department for Preventing Money Laundering and Financing Terrorism to investigate the accounts of 20 individuals and 37 organisations, all critical about the regime, Freedom House (FH) also said it was "deeply concerned."
The organisation told the Voice of America (VOA) it was worried „with events in Serbia, „especially because of the previous persecution of the independent media and NGOs carried out by the country’s authorities in the last years.“
„Having in mind that the list contains names of well-known and respected investigative media, human rights organisations, journalists and activists, the impression is that it is an open and systematic attack on criticism rather than a credible investigation of an isolated incident,“ Sophia Orlovsky, the FH Programme Director for Europe, told VOA.
She warned Serbia’s authorities to stop with the attacks immediately.
Orlovsky added that „the accusations of money laundering or terrorism against the critics of the authorities and NGOs is nothing new.
„It regularly appears in Euro-Asian totalitarian states which want to silence independent observes and opponents. It’s most often the case in Russia, but also Turkey, Kazahstan, or Tadjiastan… The authorities in Serbia launched that alleged investigation into the groups and individuals who openly spoke about the corruption of some ruling officials and criticised Serbia’s regression in the human right area,“ Orlovsky said.
According to her, that shows the authorities’ readiness to abuse the significance of the transparency and responsible institutions to achieve their goals.
„Even more, using the mechanisms for preventing money laundering in intimidating the civil society as an independent observer, Serbia’s authorities show a clear contempt of its commitment to rooting out corruption,“ Orlovsky added.“
„The officials should explain why are they worried about those groups and individuals targeted by the investigation. Serbia’s powerful civil sector can be an important partner in improving the way of ruling (the country) and respecting fundamental freedoms. Instead of threatening, the authorities should involve in an honest dialogue,“ Orlovsky said.
Freedom House’s latest reportdegraded Serbia into the category of a hybrid regime. Serbia’s Government disputed the report, but FH said it stood behind it.