Serbians protest removal of prosecutors probing corruption

Serbians protest removal of prosecutors probing corruption

02 Mar 2023 ( Reuters )

Hundreds of opposition supporters and rights activists rallied peacefully in Belgrade on Thursday to protest the replacement of two deputy prosecutors who were investigating a high-profile corruption case.

The protest comes as Serbia vies for European Union membership by proving it can root out corruption and organised crime, as well as reform the judiciary and the rule of law.

The two deputy prosecutors, Bojana Savovic and Jasmina Paunovic, last week said senior prosecutor Nenad Stefanovic removed them from investigating an embezzlement case in the state-run EPS electro power utility company. The investigation led to the arrest of six suspects charged with misappropriating $7.5 million.

In a statement, senior prosecutor’s office said the two have been reassigned due to slow work and because of their own requests.

The protesters who carried banners reading “Support to brave prosecutors” cheered as Cedomir Kokanovic, one of the organisers, said that Savovic and Paunovic must be reinstated.

He also demanded the sacking of Stefanovic and Zagorka Dolovac, Serbia’s state prosecutor.

“This is about the independent judiciary, (about) how it should be and not just a dead letter,” he said.

Opposition parties accuse President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of autocracy, corruption, nepotism, ties with organised crime and the stifling of media freedoms. Both Vucic and the SNS have denied that.

“I came here to support these … prosecutors who had courage and strength to fight against the problem that grips this society,” said Janko Fejdi from the northern city of Novi Sad.

Last year Serbia adopted amendments to the constitution to depoliticise the appointment of prosecutors and judges. Both the EU and the U.S. welcomed the move.

International and domestic legal experts said the amendments were a step forward, but not enough to guarantee that the Serbian judiciary will be independent of political influence.