Out in the World: LGBTQ Serbians protest reported police assault against community members

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday March 15, 2024
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Human rights activists and members of the LGBTQ community held a protest in Serbia March 6 following a reported case of police harassment of a young gay man and a bisexual woman. Photo: Ivana Bzganovic
Human rights activists and members of the LGBTQ community held a protest in Serbia March 6 following a reported case of police harassment of a young gay man and a bisexual woman. Photo: Ivana Bzganovic

Hundreds of LGBTQ activists and supporters recently demonstrated against reported police assaults on a young gay man and a bisexual woman in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Participants in the March 6 protest were angered by a February 26 police raid of an apartment, the alleged abuse of the two unidentified queer roommates who lived in the apartment, and the police rejection of their complaint against the officers, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Associated Press.

They called for the criminal prosecution of the police officers and quicker sanctioning of police officers who commit violence, reported RFE/RL.

Several leaders from the Serbian opposition parties joined the demonstrators, reported RFE/RL. They told the news outlet the incident was the most severe case they've seen so far. The victims suffered physical injuries and psychological trauma.

The protest, "We Will Not Be Silent!," was organized by Da se zna (Let It Be Known), an LGBTQ legal advocacy and psychological support organization in Serbia.

Police raided the apartment where the two queer roommates lived based on suspicion of drugs. During the raid, police reportedly spotted LGBTQ symbols, which activists told the media triggered the officers to harass, beat, insult, and force simulated sexual acts against the roommates, reported ABC News.

The roommates reported the incident to the police. Police denied the accusations but told ABC News they were investigating the allegations against the officers involved. The police added that the police officers "will be sanctioned in accordance with the law, if it is determined that they had exceeded their powers."

According to two separate reports from the news outlet, the case was also referred to the prosecutor's office for an investigation. Serbia's independent Ombudsman's Office, which investigates complaints made by citizens against the government, also initiated an investigation into allegations that police officers had exceeded their powers.

The gay male victim, who stood by his mother, Sanja Malinovic, at the protest, told the demonstrators, "We don't want to suffer violence."

"Please, don't tolerate violence! I came here in my name, my flatmate's name, and in the name of all people who suffer violence and remain silent," he added, reported AP. "This is nothing to do with LGBT people or minorities, it's about us all being threatened. I don't want to be silent."

His mother told the crowd that what happened to her son was "sadism."

"He was violated and brutally attacked," Malinovic said.

The gay victim called upon the interior ministry and the prosecutors to respond. "I appeal to prosecution and interior ministry to react," he said, reported AP.

"We just want to invite our state and our parliament to give some reactions and to be on our side in this particular case because this is huge violation of human rights," Ana Petrovic, coordinator for advocacy at Da se zna, according to the organization's Facebook page, told AP. "That is something that should never happen."

The AP translated the demonstrators' comments in a transcript included with the video report.

Activists accused officials of delaying acting against the officers involved, reported RFE/RL.

"We are often told that we should keep our love within our own four walls," demonstrator Konstantin Malajev told RFE/RL, stating he doesn't agree with hiding queer love. "We also see that they don't even let us have peace within our four walls."

One activist called for LGBTQ sensitivity training for police and raising public awareness about LGBTQ issues, the news outlet reported.

In 2017, Ana Brnabić, who is lesbian, was appointed the country's prime minister by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. Some experts speculated that it was a move by the country's leadership to show progress in line with the European Union. Serbia has been a candidate for E.U. membership since 2012.

Despite having a high-profile out LGBTQ government official, leaders have repeatedly denied rights to LGBTQ Serbians. The B.A.R. previously reported that Serbia denied parental rights to same-sex couples. Human Rights Watch reported that leaders attempted to ban EuroPride in 2022.

Da se zna documented a sharp increase in violence and discrimination against Serbia's LGBTQ community in 2023. The organization told RFE/RL it recorded more than 80 cases of violence and discrimination against members of Serbia's LGBTQ community during 2023. In 2022, HRW, working with Da se zna, documented 30 incidents of hate motivated incidents against LGBTQ people, including 10 physical attacks and human rights violations, according to the report.

Representatives of Da se zna told RFE/RL that most cases of violence against LGBTQ Serbians are not reported to the police because queer Serbians distrust government institutions.

"The lives of LGBT people are still very difficult," Bojan Lazic, an activist at the protest, told RFE/RL. "They still face discrimination, and, in fact, I fear that these cases of violence, if no one is held accountable, will get worse and worse."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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