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 ...?
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.