On July 9, 2020, authorities arrested law student Nemanja Vuckovic for allegedly calling on fellow students to participate in protests.
Starting on July 7, citizens held protests in front of the National Assembly building in Belgrade over the announcement of a new curfew as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. The protests quickly spread across the country, with protesters challenging the government’s overall handling of the pandemic and President Aleksandar Vučić alleged growing authoritarian behavior. The protests were marked by violent clashes between police and protesters, with police firing tear gas and using clubs to beat protesters, and arresting dozens during demonstrations.
On July 9, Vuckovic, the president of the Student Club at the Faculty of Law of the University in Belgrade, published a Facebook post inviting students to a sit-in demonstration in front of the National Assembly building at 7pm. Before the demonstration, at 5pm, the Security Information Agency reportedly called Vuckovic and summoned him to meet them. Authorities then arrested Vuckovic and brought him to a police station in Rakovica, Belgrade. After about four hours, authorities transferred Vuckovic to a police station in Despot Stefan, where he was held for three hours until he was released. Authorities did not inform Vuckovic of what charges he faced, if any, and reportedly prevented him from meeting with his lawyer.
On July 23, Vuckovic reportedly filed a complaint in the Constitutional Court over the arrest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student in apparent retaliation against the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and in an apparent effort to restrict the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Serbia is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent expressive activity undermines academic freedom, and democratic society generally.