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From the media

The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was guest in "Beogradska Hronika" program on RTS.

Were there more or fewer complaints from citizens during the pandemic? What did the employed most often complain about to the Protector of Citizens? My guest will give us answers to all these questions. Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, guest of Hronika. Good afternoon and welcome. What did you tell me? You told me all these topics which I had invited you to talk about were not interesting at all, now we’re just talking.

No, it’s just off-topic.

Why do you think that?

Because, you first said it had been a pandemic, and the pandemic is still underway. This raises a new round of topics and most importantly the topics we addressed as priorities at the start of the pandemic aren’t the same as they are now.

How are they different?

Life changes topics. The difference is that back then, the citizens weren’t familiar with this, that absolutely no one had a realistic attitude because few people knew much about this disease. And then, it naturally incited certain behavior.

And they were approaching you, right?

They contacted us so much that the number of contacts increased dozens of times compared to the previous year 2019. It started with how citizens who found themselves outside the country could enter the country and be enabled to overcome all the obstacles they had, then the state of emergency itself, the situation in the state of emergency which brought many into a very difficult situation. I will only name those people who live alone, who benefit of custodial care and assistance, and who, due to the state of emergency, couldn’t have been looked after by relatives or those who do it as a job.

And we overcame all that, it's been a year.

Yes, we did.

Let's go from the end now. What are they most often complaining about now?

They are now complaining about common problems, all of which have a dose of Covid-19 impact on either individual conditions or the collective conditions of particular social groups. This is what marked the inception, and it’ll continue and will last as long as the pandemic lasts, that is, it’ll last until the situation in our society and in the entire world, I assume, becomes closest to what is figuratively called normal or regular or regular routine before the virus. Now, when it will really come, I can't be a prophet and talk about it.

Of course. Which ministry, which institution did you file the latest request to and asked for a reply?

You mean to date?

For example.

Well, these are mostly the same questions that we ask everyone, so I can't tell you and single out any one, all ministries, most often the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police.

And my questions head there as well. So, one of the latest reports that you issued is the request for authorities’ reply regarding the alleged replacement of babies in the "Narodni Front" Maternity Hospital. Did you get the answers, this was last week I would say?

That was last week. We always, what the law permits, set the shortest deadline for a reply, which is 15 days. As you yourself said, we have no replies yet. But that brings up another, much more important question, and that is how to act in such situations when parents have fear, be it justified or not-we’ll see in the investigation, that their child has been replaced in the maternity hospital. This is linked to the earlier story that was high-profile, and that is the problem of "missing babies".

Tell me, is that committee still operating?

It is, but then one question arises. Until this problem is resolved, there will be a certain amount of mistrust. We sent not only to the GAK Narodni Front, but also to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police, which reacted to all this, all those who may have any contacts relevant to this case.

When do you expect the reply?

We expect in 7 days’ time and then we’ll see how they’ll reply to us and we will act accordingly. But again I open that question, what I suggested and in the case of "missing babies" there is one exact method that links parents to a child or a child to a parent, it's DNA analysis, one hundred percent certain. Formally, it is not one hundred percent, but in fact it is, and then it is easy to determine whether the child is of the parent who claims it. Let me say this. The Protector of Citizens is not the institution that implements this.

Clearly, clearly, but you are being approached by those who seek help. Another topic for us. We keep receiving complaints from citizens that are somehow related.

To labor relations, I assume.

That’s right. I’d target the Ministry of labor and labor relations. Many employers, especially retailers, took advantage of the Crisis Response Teams’ measures and practically forced their employees to use their annual leaves during the period when they were unable to work because they were closed. Do employers have the right to do that?

If they forced them, the term you used…

Wait, if someone tells you, we don’t work, everything is closed, we’re in some kind of lockdown and someone tells you - you now have to take annual leave.

You see, there is Article 116 of the Employment Act regulating the so called forced annual leave, lay off, for a maximum of 45 days in situations when the workload is reduced, i.e. when there is no work, to put it simply. This is mostly possible and is done in situations when it comes to, what is colloquially said state-owned institutions, of course with the Minister’s consent. Certainly, all of this during this period were recommendations that referred to state-owned institutions, but they were also instructive to private employers to act likewise so as not to harm employees.
Now, I use, and I thank you for the question, the opportunity to call on all those who feel that they were denied something, regardless of the number because we’ll act in the same way in each case, to approach the Protector of Citizens, and we’ll see whether it will be possible for us to act immediately or we’ll need to alert labor inspectorate.

Since many questions have been raised, I see that we’ll see each other again very soon. Let me ask you just one more thing? Were there any objections to the Crisis Response Team’s acting/failure to act? Has anyone complained to you regarding this topic?

Specifically regarding the Crisis Response Team as such, by name, no, not per se, but that’s the dissatisfaction that alternates from the fact that we were approached by those who were either unable due to the decisions of the Crisis Response Team to perform a certain job or to those who believe that these measures denied them certain rights. However, mind you, the Crisis Response Team doesn’t operate on the principle of some personal affinities and animosities.

They give recommendations.

That’s right. The extent to which it operates are in accordance with what can be called the realistic needs of citizens, it is what the Protector of Citizens investigates – a clear distinction between those who observe the measures and those who don’t. Non-observance of measures can only be done consciously, you cannot unconsciously disregard the measures if you are familiar with them, and the citizens are acquainted with the measures in the largest possible number, almost all of them. It simply should not be the case that those who act in accordance with the measures suffer because of the minority that misbehaves and who deliberately violates them for various reasons.

Okay, we put ellipsis here. We’re waiting for you to obtain the replies and then see you again in the studio to tell us the reply.

The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was a guest in the show “Dan uzivo“ on TV N1.

I will talk to the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, about the exit of journalist associations from the Government's working group for the safety of journalists after linking the KRIK portal with Veljko Belivuk. Mr. Pašalić, good afternoon! Thank you for being here! You are someone who started this working group. How do you comment on the exit of journalist associations from it?

I have to correct you. I never started that working group. We launched a platform to record every kind of...

But the working group was launched on your initiative, that's what I wanted to say.

No, on our initiative, after three years of very hard work, a platform was created, which was signed by 10 organizations, 7 associations and 3 unions, and on which every kind of pressure, attack, discrediting, and every other kind of obstruction of journalists in doing their job should be recorded. That is what came from the Protector of Citizens.

All right, but you didn't answer my question.

No one has stepped out of our platform, as it is practically called and as it is better known to the public, as far as I know, to this day.

All right, but you're a member of the working group, if I'm not mistaken.

That's right. I am a member of the Working Group with others who are in that working group.

All right. Can you then answer the question that I asked you, which is, how do you view the fact that certain journalist associations have decided to leave that working group of the Government?

Everyone has the right to participate in a job or leave it, even in the working group that you are talking about. What is most important from the aspect of the Protector of Citizens is that the platform that I am talking about works. A lot of effort has been invested in it, to form it as such, with seven groups of attacks on journalists and 47 subgroups, so that all journalist associations and the three unions I listed, can enter their data into the platform.

Your unique platform collects all reports of attacks on journalists, but can it protect journalists? It can’t. That's why I'm asking you...

You asked the question, you answered it.

All right, can the platform protect journalists?

It certainly can, because on that platform there are records of what can be considered an attack in terms of a crime, or a pressure, which is practically a job of the courts, in the sense of an insult. And the most important thing are the records themselves, from which you can see exactly who, how many times and in what way prevented journalists from doing their job. Okay. And what is the role of the working group which you are a member of?

The role of the working group is to protect journalists, that is its basic role, from any kind of attack. You know that an SOS line has been introduced which journalists can use. So far, the group has established some, as far as I understand, organizational principles for further and long-term activities.

If the working group of the government protects journalists, Mr. Pašalić, why didn't you, as a member of that working group, support the KRIK portal and the journalists of that portal when the pro-government tabloids linked them to Veljko Belivuk?

You see, what I learned from the media, when talking specifically about the KRIK portal, does not belong to the domain of the protection of citizens, but the domain of the prosecution, that is, if their security is endangered, then it is a job for the police and the prosecution. If someone interpreted it as an insult or slander, as I just said, that is a matter for the court. The most important thing in all this is for the Protector of Citizens to make a statement...

So why didn’t you?

Let me finish, please, …by which he would condemn that or say something else. But as you and the public know, that is not the road I follow. I do not need either personal affirmation or affirmation of the Institution, as it may have been in earlier times. I don't need to make a statement in all this in order to gain media popularity, but to finish the job I started two and a half years ago, which is to unite, on a common platform, records of all attacks on journalists that have been recorded by the UNS and NUNS so far, and those from the permanent working group that takes care of the safety of journalists, where criminal acts that have occurred or been adjudicated, or those that are in the proceedings, are recorded. It is necessary to consolidate all that. The most important thing is, and I have heard that many times both here and from media representatives from abroad, that there is no single platform, and that the existing platforms differ in many ways. What my goal was and what I will bring to an end, certainly with the support and primarily with a great effort of journalist associations and the three unions that I said belong to the group of 10 signatories of the platform, is the essence of our actions. And that is to really yield some results. If all journalist associations or most of them think that the Protector of Citizens is an institution that should put on that platform what is considered an attack on journalists, given that they are now entering that information, I will wholeheartedly accept that.

Okay. I am just not sure, the part about the popularity of the state institution of the Protector of Citizens that you talked about wasn't clear to me. I simply don’t understand why you, as a member of the Working Group, did not comment on the case that occurred when it comes to the KRIK portal. The editor of that portal said that he was afraid for the safety of his journalists. You don't think that deserves a reaction?

This is your answer to your own question, when you said he was afraid for the safety. When someone is afraid for their own safety, they turn to those who protect the safety of all of us, and that is the police and the prosecution. The Protector of Citizens, to explain to you what was not clear...

And what is the role of the working group?

…does not gain popularity by giving a statement, a proclamation or whatever you call it, because it does not achieve anything. Because it will happen again, which none of us want, but a similar, as you said, attack on someone's security will happen again. The goal of the Protector of Citizens, together with the ones I mentioned, is to stop such occurrences with these records.

All right, but you know that President Vučić said in his interview, when he was in Abu Dhabi, that KRIK journalists must not be touched, that is, that they should do their job freely. Well, how can the president of the state say that, and you, as the Protector of Citizens, think that it will not bring anything?

 The president of the state can say that. The Protector of Citizens moves within what he stands for the most – the platform I am talking about, which I think will bring much more than just talking about specific cases. We saw at the beginning of my mandate that this type of announcement did not affect the safety of journalists in any special way, and that is why we started creating this common platform. I repeat, so that everyone would understand, a platform that would unite all cases of pressures, attacks, discredits, attacks on security, whether their personal or that of their families.

So, you think that this record of attacks will protect journalists the best? But it seems to me that these are just records, what about prevention?

No, you are absolutely wrong. The goal of this is…

I'm not claiming I'm right; I'm asking you to explain.

… both special and general prevention. Because, you see, someone could ask you which of the existing records is complete, as they don't coincide in many ways, so you have to work on uniting them into a single record that all journalists in Serbia would stand behind, and I am not saying this colloquially, I really mean it.

What do you think about media freedom and the work and position of investigative journalists in Serbia? Should they be afraid for their safety, since, as we have heard from the editor of the KRIK portal, this is the most serious threat they have received so far. What do you think about that?

First of all, no one should be afraid in this country, be it journalists or those who perform some other activities. Secondly, in the question you asked, you mentioned investigative journalists. Who are the other journalists then? Aren't they all journalists…

I don't know why you constantly have a problem with my questions, that’s interesting to me, but I know how I am going to ask you a question.

I have no problem with the questions…

They are… they work for the portal, they are investigative journalists who work for the portal that is called like that. You have investigative journalists, you have documentary journalists, there are various divisions in journalism.

There, you answered your own question. If…

Well no. I'm explaining it to you, because it wasn't clear to you.

… you're saying that investigative journalists are the ones who need to be protected, what about the other journalists, they don't need to be protected? I consider all journalists…

Everyone should be protected. That's exactly what I'm saying.

…no matter which media they work for, regardless of whether it is a portal or some other media…

Okay, but I gave the example of people who came out in the media, who are endangered.

…they all experience attacks and are all endangered in some way. This degree of vulnerability varies from, so to speak, the most benign ones, such as going away from press conferences or simply avoiding answering questions, to those physical attacks that directly endanger the safety of their lives. So, don't divide journalists to investigative and all others. For us, all journalists perform a very important activity, an activity that gives citizens the opportunity to find out in a timely manner what interests them and all of them should be equally protected.

Well, I mentioned investigative journalists in this case because we specifically talked about the KRIK portal, because they are journalists who deal with investigative journalism. I am glad to hear that you want to protect all journalists in Serbia, so I ask you what will you do as a member of the Working Group of the Government of Serbia when it comes to protecting journalists, aside from maintaining a platform where attacks on them will be recorded.

What I have always done, and that is to try to reconcile, to bring to the same table all those who need to protect the interests of all journalists. Because that working group, as far as I understood it, deals with the protection, not of investigative journalists, but of all journalists in the Republic of Serbia. I have tried that several times, not only when it comes to journalists, but to all conflicting groups in the Republic of Serbia. Normally, outside the limits…

And in what way do you now…

…of how the law limits me, which is Article 10a of the Law on the Protection of Citizens, which says that my statements mustn’t have a political connotation…

All right. Can you do something now, certain associations have come out from the Working Group, do you think that you can be that conciliator, as you said?

I will certainly try. Exactly the thing that we now call a colloquial platform, this gathering around that unique platform, that serves to reconcile everyone, for me to try to reconcile everyone again and to continue the work, regardless of the form and under whose auspices, in order to solve the problem of the security of journalists.

The SOS line, do journalists report attacks, do you expect that after this story with the KRIK portal and the exit of journalist associations from the working group of the Government, will some of the journalists actually call that SOS phone line?

- I will check what the role of that line is, first of all whether they are answering, and then on what issues are they answering. It is the same as with the protection of citizens. The Protector of Citizens had that SOS phone line and even today there is still a possibility for citizens to call and present their problems. Only when you see what those problems are, then you can give a, let's say, general statement.

Mr. Pašalić, thank you for the time you set aside for N1 Television.

The Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić was guest in the Morning Program on Radio-television of Serbia.

We’re back to the topic of the pandemic and the what’s on - do the vaccinated pay the toll for the unvaccinated? Could one of the sanctions for all those who attend parties and mass gatherings, spreading the infection, be community service in Covid hospitals? And these are just some of the suggestions that we’ve heard in the previous days from members of the Crisis Response Team, both from doctors and politicians. We’re talking with Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, about whose rights are endangered in combatting the virus and whether such ideas would be legally based. Since 9 o'clock last night, everything has been locked for five days. What do you think about the latest proposal that has been discussed for several days - members of the Crisis Response Team suggest that the vaccinated be rewarded in some way, not to pay the toll because the other ones are not unvaccinated, how does it all sound to you, should there be a reward and punishment?

It is the right of every citizen to choose whether he/she will be vaccinated or not. Certainly, since I was vaccinated, I cannot speak against the vaccine, but it’s not possible to make some sort of division of the population of Serbia on that basis, whether or not they have been vaccinated. I know about those ideas and I know that there were ideas that those who were vaccinated or revaccinated, could attend sports events, concerts, cultural events in general, unlike those who were not.

But doctors also suggest that, and that, for example, has already become viable in Israel. They have some kind of green passes, those who have got the vaccine can enter clubs, concerts, and the others can only be in front. So you're saying it's discrimination?

No, I'm not saying it's discrimination. Article 14 of the Convention on Human Rights deals with discrimination and maybe if interpreted more broadly it could be categorized there, although it lists exhaustively what is considered discrimination. I'm talking about the fact that it is everyone's choice whether to be vaccinated or not, and that in that way no one can really be put in a subordinate position.

And where is the line between human dignity and the Law on Protection of Population from Infectious Diseases?

Good question. The limit is that all measures that are undertaken must be taken as a whole, and very rigorously. Only in that way will we really get the effect of these measures.

How can we get the effect of these measures? When we were preparing for this interview, what did you tell me? You suggest that it be done on the spot, what to be done?

You see, there were ideas about so-called community work. This is one of the suggestions, and then to do PCR testing of people caught illegally in clubs, meaning those who work illegally or who are at illegal parties, so that if they are infected, they are introduced into the category of persons who have been committing a crime. This criminal act can only be premeditated, and it is very difficult to prove in court that it is an act committed with intent.
As for the former, it is also one of the bigger problems. I will only give you data for Belgrade, out of around 100,000 enforceable decisions, only 1% refers to community service work. Why? According to the law, community service must first be accepted by the person against whom this type of sanction has been imposed. So, you can't force anyone to community service work.

Yes, we have now moved on to another topic, which is community service work. But let's just finish with the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Should they be rewarded? That, for example, has come to life in America, grandparents who got vaccine can see their grandchildren. So, you as the Protector of Citizens are absolutely against such a solution?

You see, if the medical experts said that, they also said this. That the acquisition of immunity is individual. Firstly, each of us carries a different immunity, and secondly, it is age-related, regardless of which vaccine we received. Does the very act of revaccination guarantee that you won’t get the virus and won’t infect anybody else? It should take some time, what time it is and who’s checking it, whether each time these people go public they are tested for the antibodies they have, to make sure that even if they get Covid, it will pass in an easier form? It seems pretty simple, but it’s not that easy.

Yes. So, the vaccinated attending matches, going to concerts will hardly come to life.

I don’t know that.

A bit difficult to put into action.

That I don’t know. I know that we have said many times that the majority that observes these measures should not absolutely suffer because the minority, and the largest minority, deliberately, so, voluntarily violates these measures, whether they are parties in privately owned houses, flats, in places that close at certain hour and do not operate legally, not to mention a number of other measures. Then, shopping malls, one thing is not clear to me, and that is if the cubature and square footage of a shopping mall entail the safety of a certain number of citizens, why citizens then aren't allowed in successively - a number enters, when that number comes out, not as a whole but individually, then you let others in.

Okay. Dr. Predrag Kon spoke about community service for everyone who at parties, and turns out positive, he has said that they might be useful in Covid hospitals, the medical workers are not the only ones necessary there.

If they agree to help in Covid hospitals. Because, as I said, for community service you must have the consent of the person against whom the sentence was imposed. Certainly, if someone starts doing community service in the public interest, which can range in the interval from 20 to 320 hours, and then quits it, every eight hours of community service is replaced by one day of imprisonment.

So, he/she can’t be forced to work?

No, that can’t be done. There are, how to put it, a range of requirements for community service. First, he/she needs to give consent and then that work must not be an insult to his dignity. These are two grounds.

So how do you sanction those people, what’s the most effective way?

You see, it is not that the Protector of Citizens suggests what I’m about to tell you. But, what we did while I was in Misdemeanor Court proved to be very efficient, and that is the implementation of Article 308 of the Law on Misdemeanor which has long existed in the Law on Misdemeanors and has changed only the number not the essence. It states that, when a person, is violating a regulation, decision, law that person is immediately being prosecuted, sanctioned and that the sentence is enforced immediately. Be it an alternative prison and money, be it cumulative, both prison and money, and be it is also a protective measure, community service.

So, sanction on the spot. Thank you for speaking for Dnevnik.

The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić featured as a guest on the show "150 minuta" on Prva TV.

Reporter: Acting teacher Mr. Miroslav Mika Aleksić is in custody on suspicion of sexually abusing his students from 2012 until 2020. The Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade is conducting an investigation against Aleksić. The Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, visited Aleksić two days ago and talked with him following a complaint by his attorney. What exactly the acting teacher has complained about, we’re about to hear from my guest, the Protector of Citizens. We are also joined in our studio by Mr. Igor Jurić, Founder of Tijana Jurić Foundation who will likewise comment on the new situation. Mr. Pašalić, went to visit Mr. Aleksić two days ago, what is he complaining about? You are in contact with the attorney.

Pašalić: That’s how it was reported. We’re obliged as the Institution of the Protector of Citizens, and that is in the Law on the Protector of Citizens, to control the conditions in which persons deprived of liberty are, not only detainees but inmates as well, and persons in psychiatric institutions.

Reporter: You’ve had the obligation to carry out that visit.

Pašalić: This was a regular visit to the District Prison, that is, as it is better known to the public, it is the detention unit in Bačvanska Street or the Central Prison, so on that occasion we talked with a number of detainees and, among others, with Mr. Aleksić. Considering that the complaint by his attorney refers to the procedure, that is, the part that does not fall within our competence and those are some court activities. As the public knows, the Protector of Citizens, neither according to the Constitution in Article 138, nor according to the applicable Law on the Protector of Citizens, has the possibility to control either the court administration or the trial process, as it is said, in principle or on the merits. What we are discussing during the visit are the conditions in which someone is in custody. Conditions in detention are far stricter than conditions in prison. Persons in detention stay in their cells for 23 hours, are entitled to 1 hour walk, while in prisons serving sentences, inmates usually do some work, in the sense of common premises maintenance or doing some other chores or working most often in some workshops.

Reporter: Just to tell to the viewers, the Higher Court in Belgrade on February 12 extended the detention for another 30 days The attorney did not complain about that, but about the conditions.

Pašalić: You didn’t understand me. The attorney precisely complained about the thing that the Protector of Citizens, due to the law and the Constitution that I just quoted, cannot have as the subject of his work and actions. And regarding the conditions in prison itself, the detainees, inmates or relatives of those in psychiatric institutions complain about them. That's why I go to the scene and conduct interviews individually, and that's how the talk with Mr. Aleksić was carried out.

Reporter: You had conversation.

Pašalić: I had a conversation not only with Mr. Aleksić but with several detainees, especially because it’s very important that they are in a part that is a sort of prison hospital, because they are people who have certain health problems. Since there are special conditions in that hospital and such detainees are treated separately, it is always a place we visit.

Reporter: Mr. Jurić, what’s your view on this Mr. Pasalić’s visit? I assume Mr. Pašalić that it’s not the first time that you go to such a prison unit and visit people who are treated in the way Mr. Aleksić is.

Pašalić: It is not my whim, it is a legal obligation, I visited almost all prisons in the Republic of Serbia.

Reporter: Upon invitation.

Pašalić: Not only upon invitation, I told you at the beginning – there is an obligation to control.

Reporter: I understand, just tell me have you ever gone on a call?

Pašalić: Of course, prisoners who are serving their sentences can use the landline phone at certain hours, as they are not entitled to a mobile phone during the day, and they usually call us and complain about certain prison conditions. Then it is checked, most often by going to the scene in interviews with them, with the Court Administration, and then certain conclusions are drawn. You have to understand one thing, the Protector of Citizens is an institution that acts objectively, we don’t have the right to a biased attitude, at least in relation to the work we do. I can think of anyone in a way that people mostly attach some subjective feeling to. When it comes to the job, the one I do, there are no subjective...

Reporter: I absolutely understand you, but the public is so upset about this whole case.

Pašalić: You said it perfectly. There is one reason for detention that is public nuisance. I can't know whether that was one of the reasons for ordering the detention of Mr. Aleksić, but that's one of the reasons why we highlighted this conversation, precisely because it's about the children who are the case, we'll see when the Court gives its the final word.

Reporter: We need to wait, that's right. Mr. Jurić, what’s your view regarding this situation?

Jurić: Of course, I listen to Mr. Pašalić and he really speaks like a bachelor of law. From that legal point of view, we can talk about the fact that you should be objective, realistic, that there must be a presumption of innocence that you must objectively take care of all citizens, even those who have committed the most serious of crimes. We can in a way, if of course it is proven, put this case in that category of the most serious crimes. On the other hand, I am very upset as a citizen it is close to me now that I was invited to the program, I was very glad to point out to a fact that some other victims are really not taken care of.

Reporter: What hit you the hardest?

Jurić: To be specific, I went now, this weekend, to visit a girl from Niš, who also raised public concern, when she was the victim of a rapist for 10 days. Talking with her, I learned now after all, when she had a little strength to speak about what was happening in those 10 days. Then, I saw a family that tragically lost their son; there was a search for him. I just have to make a digression related to this case so that I can indicate what I really want to say. At what point did I really see the difficult mental and physical condition of those children and those families, I asked them whether anyone had ever approached you? After the tragedy that we experienced, did anyone contact us and did the Protector of Citizens, then it was not Mr. Pašalić, but even if he had been, when we talking about the cases that happened, did anyone knock on their door and asked how are you today, in what conditions do you live, are you ready to continue living, do you need any help, are the conditions in which you live adequate to continue a normal life? I am talking about the victims; I want to be objective about the people who are in penitentiary institutions, but also about the people who should continue their lives after the severe tragedies that befall them. And because of that, today I can say with certainty - this is not my situation and some of my subjective feeling. I totally objectively claim that the victims and perpetrators of crimes are not treated in the same way, and even those who have not been proven. Let's weigh it out, and let's put those people on an equal footing. So, if we help and take care of people who are suspects today or are already proven perpetrators of serious crimes, let's put people who were victims on the same scale. I think that no one in this society, not even the Protector of Citizens, cares enough about these victims.

Reporter: Mr. Pašalić, please.

Pašalić: I'm glad that Mr. Jurić said this, I kept silent about it, believing that it was well mannered not to mention that I talked to that girl 8 months ago. Why I didn't make it public, I'll tell you, maybe when you say that in the media, it's not fair, but I have to say it. She insisted on talking to me, I went to talk to her family for precisely the reasons that Mr. Jurić said. I talked to the parents offering help, she insisted on talking to us, I didn’t insist on talking because of her secondary victimization. The reason why I kept silent all this time is that she told me that she had been much more affected by the fact that the media exploited her tragedy, than by the act that had happened to her. I have always been in favor of protecting children primarily in the media and from the media. No tragic case can be used for personal affirmation, and that is why I do not do it and I will never do it for the reason that what these children experience is multiplied. And you know very well that the Protector of Citizens has emphasized countless times that it is a must and, thank God if I may say so, that this is being met. And that is that during the interrogation and contacts with those children, they are not secondarily victimized, because what they have experienced is opened by someone else. I talked to a person who is from the profession, who deals specifically with retraumatization, to prevent further unravelling of the trauma, and then I learned one thing. The things with that girl are going well, that's what I was told.

Jurić: With whom? It's not true, they are not undergoing a treatment, I went to see them.

Pašalić: They are, I'll bring you the documentation.

Jurić: Well, do it.

Pašalić: I have no reason to argue, the important thing I wish to say, not for the two of us to argue. This is what the psychiatrist told me from Toponica, she is one of the mildest cases to whom a terrible event happened, and I don’t mean only the act of abduction, whose recovery is going relatively well. It can never go very well, unlike some boys and girls who are also there, where he goes much slower. I am almost certain that the man who did that will one day contact the Institution. As the institution was addressed during my predecessor by a man who committed a terrible deed in the Zvezdarska Šuma, where there were fatal consequences. The Protector of Citizens is the one who must hear that side as well. It is not easy, you have to have a lot of knowledge, a lot of life and work experience to make that kind of distinction.

Reporter: Mr. Pašalić, may I say in a common and humane terms - you should have a stomach for something like that.

Jurić: I will tell Dejan that I am ready to come to your show with the families of children who are victims of violence. And I would like them to tell you how much the state took care of them, whether the Protector of Citizens or anyone else, we are talking about institutions, visited them, whether he offered them any psychological or any other help. It’s not that Igor speaks here and speaks on behalf of himself in order to represent himself. No, Igor is also having a hard time and my family had a hard time living through what happened to us, no one approached us so this story... I repeat once again I am ready to bring that family and tell you what has been done and how many times they have had any therapy to help them. What condition the child is in and how good his recovery is, I would not be so sure of what the Protector of Citizens is saying now.

Pašalić: The difference is that our job is very difficult, we are not a non-governmental organization as it is colloquially called, these are citizens' associations, we cannot speak from a personal point of view. I may have an opinion but I will not make it public as long as I do this job. I have to make the situation objective as much as I can. What you said, one should have a stomach, hear the whole story countless times from both sides, without having the opportunity for what we requested in the new law, which is the monitoring of courts, and that is in some countries in Europe, that I have to say for the public. Specifically, you have in Montenegro that the Protector of Citizens can even interfere in court proceedings when it comes to the protection of particularly vulnerable groups, and what group is more vulnerable than children not to list them all. What is the point? The point is that often the desire to condemn someone through the media to someone who experienced a tragedy, because I do not go into the extent to which it is tragic and the extent to which it is horrible, the court will show by a final court verdict, much more harm if remained alive, but that it is constantly emphasized, this story. This case that provoked, I was surprised that our visit to one of the detainees, I mean Mr. Aleksić, caused such a significant public interest. There were people who had far bigger problems in the detention itself.

Jurić: How is it possible that you have an objective need to visit an inmate, since you have neither the legal nor any obligation of a victim who needs a Protector of Citizens? I have read your reports countless times; I follow very well what you are doing.

Pašalić: Sir, you must first look at the Protector of Citizens’ report to see what the Protector of Citizens is doing and who he is visiting.

Reporter: Let's go back to Mr. Aleksić, I don't have much time. Mr. Aleksić is alone in the detention unit.

Pašalić: These are the details that I will tell you, I will not tell you the number, but I will tell you the fact that these accommodation conditions in all detention units must meet certain conditions, according to the conditions prescribed by the international community. We are signatories to that convention.

Reporter: So, he is not alone.

Pašalić: There aren't many cells where someone is alone, the only question is what I don't believe the public is interested in, and those are the standards regarding the square meters, about the conditions of accommodation and all that.

Reporter: The public is probably more interested in the behavior of those people who are with Mr. Aleksić in the detention unit.

Pašalić: I know why they are interested; it is again a story at the level a reality show. There are people with him who also have health problems and that are the point. When we ask, we ask all three which are the health problems, we mostly take with us the medical team, and this time we did not. Otherwise, we take psychiatrists and doctors, then we point out the problems they have to the Court Administration if they are treated inadequately.

Reporter: The very invitation to you there immediately makes us think like I told you. You said it sounded like reality program to you.

Jurić: I will tell you, I know what the public is interested in, in general - the treatment of other inmates according to specific cases, when children are especially victims or when someone is sexually abused. They are not endangered as far as other prisoners are concerned, they have an extremely good status, and I am also talking about people who have committed the most serious of crimes. I know that they have special safeguard measures when they walk at a certain time. I'm talking about the man who killed our child, and I know very well the conditions in which he lives. Believe me, people don't have to worry about their safety. On the other hand, I also want to emphasize once again that I do not wish these people anything bad, on the contrary. Let them live and atone for their sins there, but I want the victims to be represented in the same way as those in penitentiary units, and to be protected and taken care of as much as the health of people who commit such crimes and people who are victims is taken care of today. I think the victims are much less taken care of.

Pašalić: The consequence of what we have done in relation to this particular case, I am very satisfied with that, is that we have requested the Ministry of Education to bring all these names of schools under its jurisdiction, that someone who registers as the company with the greatest responsibility as a business entity and actually performs some type of education and, what is especially important, for upbringing, must be constantly monitored. And not just an educational inspection. On 18 February, the line minister replied that this would be done because if this school had been controlled like others under the name of a state school were controlled; the question arises as to which information the inspection would come to.

The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was guest in program "Uranak" on K1 Television.

The case of Mr. Miroslav Aleksić, a famous acting teacher, is still in the public spotlight. In mid-February, his detention was extended for another 30 days, and he is charged with a total of eight rapes, 11 criminal acts of sexual harassment. Two days ago, the Protector of Citizens visited him in the District Prison. We ask Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, what kind of conditions in detention Miroslav Aleksić is complaining about and whether there are grounds for the Ombudsman's reaction, he is our guest this morning. Good morning. Let's begin chronologically, when did Miroslav Aleksić's attorney contact you?

The attorney contacted us on Monday.

And what did he ask of you?

He contacted us over some procedural reasons. He considers that the court acting in the case of Mr. Aleksić made omissions.

Monday ... You visited him ...?

On Wednesday.

Is this the first...

I need, I'm sorry to interrupt you, to say, this is one of the regular visits that we conduct periodically to detention units and prisons and all those institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty, so we talked, among other things, not only with Mr. Aleksić.

But did you go there upon the attorney’s inquiry?

No, we didn’t. We went to see the conditions in the detention unit because part of it, as the Central Prison or the detention unit in Bačvanska Street is known to the public, is being renovated and to see which other parts should be renovated, what are the conditions in which they spend time and in which the detainees are, in order to insist that a part of that detention unit be refurbished.

It says on your website that you went upon the invitation of Miroslav Aleksić's attorney.

Yes, but previously it says that we were, mostly no one paid attention to that, that we were in the detention unit with the aim that I told you.

And, what specifically did he complain about besides that, what are the conditions in detention?

We talked to the detainees, including Mr. Aleksić, about the conditions in detention. These conditions primarily referred to their detention, because I don't know how far the public knows, detainees spend 23 hours a day in their cells.

Yes, what’s the difference between detention and imprisonment?

There’s a big difference considering that in prisons, people who are serving a prison sentence mostly carry out certain activities during the day, which, you will admit, in many ways influences faster passage of time. They stay in the detention units for 23 hours in their cells, and they are entitled to 1-hour walk per day. Those 23 hours in facilities that have to be as they are following certain international standards in terms of square meters, cubature, sanitary conditions, and what we especially insist on - health conditions not only because of Covid, but how detainees who have certain health problems are treated, their therapy, whether they have enough medical care, whether they have medication ... This is the Protector of Citizens’ job, that is, the Sector that handles persons deprived of liberty.

Okay. You handle many other things… Let me name a few, the law itself instructs the Protector of Citizens to pay special attention to the protection of national minorities, the rights of the child, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of persons deprived of liberty and gender equality. I have to tell you that when I read the news yesterday and commented on it with some people, we were a bit shocked that you went to visit Miroslav Aleksić.

And why did it shock you?

Well because ... Here, okay, I'm going to ask you if you think that's a priority, of all the things that are before you and the ones that I've listed, that you're dealing with, whether it's really a priority to go to the detention to Miroslav Aleksić?

You see, the Protector of Citizens, at least while I am in office, is a serious institution that deals, without any affinities, animosities, with all people who fall within our competence, and therefore persons deprived of liberty, as you said. So, the primary conversation was not, nor was the visit because of Mr. Aleksić, but because of regular activities. But, to the media, every mention of his name...

But I'm saying it was you, yourself, your office released that it was the reason.

That's right. Our office released two statements, but, if it was not Mr. Aleksić, but some other names of detainees that we also visited and talked with, I highly doubt that anyone would have published it, given that Mr. Aleksić has been in focus for a long time. .

So you published it in order to get the media...

No, we don't need media popularity, nor do we need ... That is one of the statements we release for the media every day.

You’ve just told me, if you mentioned another name, nothing would happen.

No. Great that you asked this. You see, that case was in focus for days or weeks, I didn't follow it. And because of that, it sparked media attention. And when we visit other institutions where persons are deprived of liberty, and that includes not only detention or prison institutions, but also those other institutions such as psychiatric hospitals, so to say, where persons are deprived of liberty, it hardly ever or almost never attracted public attention and we have also published it, we have also insisted on it, because it is part of our regular activities, and we do it, not to say every day, but we had hundreds of visits last year and this year we are doing it very carefully. Now, the fact that there is such an attitude in the public, which I, as a bachelor of law, would not comment on, is a violation of the presumption of innocence of every human being. We act professionally. Unfortunately, we cannot be interested in what the court will do, in this particular case, I have no mandate to control the courts and the prosecutor's office, but everyone who is...

My question was, was it a priority to visit him?

Well it is not a priority; it is, I told you, a regular activity. So it is part of the regular activities of the institution.

But if you highlight it to me, then it doesn’t seem like a regular activity to me.

Well, I'm not going into what it sounds like to you, I'm telling you it's a regular...

So why did you point out that you visited him?

Take a good look at the press statements that day. Look what it is, there were two statements that day. Maybe four or five media outlets, online, written or electronic, I think, followed the first statement about the visit to the detention unit in Bačvanska Street... And this one about the visit, that same one, during which we talked with Mr. Aleksić, I think that about 40 different media followed it.

So, the headline is - The Protector of Citizens talked to detainee Miroslav Aleksić, that's the headline on your...

That's right, and look at the previous statements.

No, no, but I want to say that you issued a statement regarding a specific conversation with Miroslav Aleksić.

Yes, because we also talked to Miroslav Aleksić. Read the statement. What does it say?

(The host reads) The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić talked today during his visit to the District Prison in Belgrade with the detainee Miroslav Aleksić...

Then you didn’t read the previous one. You have to look at everything as a unified whole.

No, but I'm reading the statement which I read yesterday.

Well you didn’t read it well, sorry to tell you that.

So how come I didn't? So here it is written on your website.

Well you didn’t, you have to look at the whole.

Well I can't look at two parallel press statements.

So you have to, if you want to have a whole. That is what is presented as a problem. And it's good that you asked me this. When it comes to such things, which spark public interest, I have always insisted that only the institution of the Protector of Citizens can look at it from an objective aspect. You may look at it subjectively. What is colloquially called a non-governmental organization, an association of citizens, and they can give a subjective feeling, because there is no obligation of their work that someone controls. Our work, which is strictly controlled by the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, must have a dose of objectivity. Now, the fact that the image of Mr. Aleksić, or anyone, was created in public as it was created, does not bind us in either direction.

I'm asking you why you visit Miroslav Aleksić and inform us about it, I don't understand that?

We do not inform you about it, we inform you about our regular activities and you selected that, that is why you invited me. No, it's you. But you chose it.

No, it's you. But you picked it. The headline on your website - the Protector of Citizens talked with detainee Miroslav Aleksić.

That's right, and look at the previous statement, I'm telling you that.

And why is Miroslav Aleksić not encompassed under that statement but separated?

Because the fact that conversation with all the detainees was necessarily related to the part where they are, and that's what I told you, and that's the part where he's there, which belongs to the part, to make the listeners or viewers better understand - part of the prison hospital. When someone is in the part that belongs to the prison hospital, then the question of special conditions arises...

Who is in the part of the prison hospital, I didn't understand?

Look, there are detainees who undergo a regular so to speak treatment and those who are within treatment that involves their health condition. Mr. Aleksić is not the only one there, there are a number of detainees who have certain health problems. What is important to us, as I said, in addition to hygiene, accommodation, are also health ... now is the time of Covid, so you’ll understand how important health is, especially when someone is in the detention unit. I don't understand why this question is important to you now, and it doesn't matter to you how the other detainees are, who are also in an endangered health condition, what kind of topic they were, we also talked with them very, very attentively.

I understand, but you pointed out this topic to me and that is why we...

No, you highlighted the topic to me. 

I'm just asking you why you emphasize the conversation with Miroslav Aleksić?

Because, I tell you again, you are one-sided. You are seeing, that is, not you, but you are choosing what is, as I would say, interesting to the media or the public... I can’t think of another expression that would be suitable.
To you, it’s not questionable that your PR office has decided to issue a special statement that only concerns conversations with... No, for me, there is absolutely nothing questionable with my PR office, because the PR service covers the movement, actually the work of the institution, both my and other employees and issues press statements. Now, what someone will choose and pay special attention to, most often those are the statements that are related to some events that have gone, or are ongoing, that have caused in turn...

But you couldn't even imagine that this would appeal so much to the media?

To me, it is absolutely all the same because I don’t care about media attention. I think that everyone has, I repeat, the institution of the Protector of Citizens must be objective, many may be subjective, but we must be objective... So if someone has experienced or is experiencing more media attention or less, it’s all the same to us. We visit in the same way and attempt to protect the same rights of those people, which may be or are endangered.

OK, I’ll take that as an answer and…

But there’s nothing to take or not... I repeat, you have to look through time, you can't look separately, now you can draw from some of our activities a case from 6 months ago, a year, or two months ago and to say why that case was interesting in the media at the time, let's say that ... Well, it does not depend on us, but it depends on you who work in the media.

But if you give me a focus on Miroslav Aleksić, then I as media...

Well, I don't give, you give.

Well no, you give because you have put it separately. What did you talk with him about?

I talked with him about his conditions in the detention unit. First of all, whether the conditions which he is in are adequate to the regulations for all detainees, does he have any special objections within ...

Does anyone visit him apart from his lawyer?

No, that's not my question, nor do I have a reason to ask him that. I can talk with him about a topic that concerns the trial itself, that concerns the proceedings, but it is certainly a topic that, unfortunately for now, I hope that in the future it would be possible through amendments to the Law on the Protector of Citizens; that is his treatment in court, speed, slowness, rights in court proceedings, which are very, very well determined by the Criminal Procedure Code, specifically Article 210, paragraph 1.2 of the Law, and what you are talking about is defined by ZIGS. These are topics we can talk about, but the primary topic is the conditions in prison.

Okay and will you react to any of what he complained about?

Absolutely, if ... No, he didn't complain, that's the point of the story, he didn't complain about the conditions in prison. He just insisted on something, and that is to allow him to have more frequent, say, medical examinations with regard to his illnesses, which I won’t talk about because I have no right to do so. I’m not a confessor to have to keep someone's secret, but you will understand that reasons and decency do not allow me to speak publicly about the point of that conversation on the conditions in detention.

Okay. So, you have a basis to react to what is...

Absolutely, we always react. Not only in the case of Aleksić, I repeat, but in all cases of those who complained about the conditions. There was another detainee who had significant complaints, which, admittedly, fall within the domain of court proceedings, but there were also those concerning his very stay and treatment in detention, and so on. When I say treatment, you know what I mean not to be misunderstood, and that is what the law and the right guarantee him, those are letters, packages and so on.

A couple of days after Aleksić was arrested, you were guest at Jovana's studio and one of the things you talked about, that is, she asked you, was to launch an initiative for children, that schools for children that are part of extracurricular activities be legally regulated. What happened with that?

Thank you for this question as well, because we have finished it and the Ministry of Education has accepted that what is called private schools, not to look for another term, must be controlled in the same way as public schools are controlled, so to speak.

And when will that happen?

That will happen now, and the reasons are that in the form of various legal entities that are registered in the APR as limited liability companies, as entrepreneurial activities, but not to go into that, there are schools, as you said, as they say, who deal with education and, what is even more important, the upbringing of children ... Under what conditions this is done, it must be subject to the control of the educational inspection. This case triggered a wave of those interests, where we were the initiator of that and I am glad that we succeeded.

That is, our program in conversation with you.

The program is fine, yes, it doesn't matter who initiated it, you or us, it matters that the epilogue is the one we wanted.

And that from now on we’ll have title control, right?

We’ll have not only that control, we have initiated another thing and that is how taxation is done, that is, what kind of tax treatment such schools have. If from what we have all read, those tuition fees, let's call them that, have a very high price for an average in the Republic of Serbia, it begs the question as to how their income is calculated and how taxes are calculated.

Well yeah, because they, I guess, calculated taxes like a regular firm, right?

I don't guess, I'll see what they did...

But no, as soon as you started combing through it, you have a reason why you do it.

No, the reason is to really see how it was done.

Because you have reason to suspect that it was not done properly.

You see, the Protector of Citizens does not suspect, it determines on the basis of proven facts. So, unlike all the others, I do not include the courts, they also work on that principle, we cannot give arbitrary assessments and statements. What you call the non-governmental sector, which does not exist as a notion, there is a term for citizens' associations, there are about 35,000 of them in the Republic of Serbia, they can give arbitrary assessment, we cannot give. If we claim something...

There is a lot of you versus them involved.

No, we’re not on us and them, but I’m telling you that you need to make a difference because there is responsibility in all situations. As you see at the times of Covid I listened very carefully, your previous guests talked about that responsibility, you have to make that serious distinction between the one who has a certain responsibility because it is obligatory for him by law and someone who does not have it. So, when the Protector of Citizens makes a statement or a recommendation, there is serious work behind it, serious facts, proven.

I understand that, that's why I'm asking you. Surely you have some reason for choosing to look at the taxation treatment of those schools, right?

Not only the reason, but when there is a problem that we notice, we do not let it exist as such, but we take a look at the problems related with that problem, for example this case that I mentioned to you... For instance, when we check whether someone has been deprived of parental rights, for any reason, we then look deeper, we look at foster families, and treatment, and their income, and how it is about other centers for social work, how the institution that is above all of them reacts to that, and that is the ministry, that is our job.

I hope that this is also something that is normal to be done that way.

I don't know if it's normal, but I know that's how we do it.

Thank you for being my guest.

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