Serbian journalist Ana Lalic was detained by police at her home, late on April 1 after she published an article alleging that medical staff at a hospital in Novi Sad did not have adequate protective gear.
She was interrogated overnight and then released on 2 April.
The article, published on Nova.rs quoted unnamed medical staff and said that a number of nurses could be infected with the virus and that the clinic lacked proper medication. The hospital denied the claims and reported Lalic to the authorities.
Lalic said that she has witnesses and sources for everything she wrote. She also said that she had sent questions to both the hospital and the authorities prior to publishing the article but they had failed to respond. The journalist said she has no regrets about publishing the story.
According to her lawyer Srdjan Kovacevic, she was accused of causing panic and disseminating false information. Both her laptop and mobile were seized and were not returned to her after she was released. Lalic still does not know if she will be charged.
Harlem Desir, the representative on freedom of the media at the OSCE spoke of his alarm over Lalic’s detention.
“Despite being released today, it is very problematic that police seized her laptop and mobile phones. Journalists need to be able to do their job freely,” he tweeted.
The day of Lalic’s release, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the government would reverse a decree from 28 March which stated that only information from the national crisis-management taskforce could be published on the subject of Coronavirus. Brnabic claimed that this was to protect citizens from unverified information, but it would put huge restraints on the media and prevent any kind of investigative journalism.
Brnbabic stated she was sorry the journalist had been detained but added that “Spreading fake news in an emergency situation is a serious offence.”
President Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency on 15 March, assuming full power and receiving criticisms that he has seized state control in an unconstitutional manner.