Promising Start for Serbian Whistleblowing Law

Serbiahotel

Illegally built hotel in Serbia that was a subject of Marinković’s disclosures.

By Vladimir Radomirović

Vladimir Radomirović, Editor-in-Chief of Pištaljka, reporting on what’s changed for whistleblowers six months after implementation of Serbia’s new law, observes that the input of civil society has had a positive impact.

When Slobodan Marinković, a police detective in Belgrade, blew the whistle on corrupt police officers and politicians three years ago, he thought the crooks would soon be brought to justice. Instead, it was Marinković who was placed under investigation after his superiors alleged that he himself was corrupt. The detective was barred from all new investigations, his colleagues were warned not to speak to him, and then he was slated for transfer to another precinct, where he would serve as junior detective.

A last-ditch effort by Marinković prevented the transfer. He then turned to Pištaljka (The Whistle), the organization that supports whistleblowers in Serbia. We investigated his
claims of corruption, verified them and published an article detailing how tycoons used political connections to illegally construct huge office buildings and a hotel. Detective Marinković’s whistleblowing prevented several buildings from being completed, much to the  chagrin of his superiors. Following the article, we interviewed Detective Marinković about his ordeal. The interview made quite an impression on fellow police officers and the general public.

A few months later, at Pištaljka’s request, the  Serbian Justice Ministry included Detective Marinković in the working group that would draft the whistleblower protection law. He and another whistleblower, Judge Biljana Mraović, were key members of the group and their experiences proved indispensable in defining the law’s main provisions.

Last December, six months after the law was implementated , Detective Marinković became one of the first whistleblowers to actually use it. Although Detective Marinković’s position on the police force improved over the past couple of years, he was nevertheless put on a redundancy list together with crooked police officers he had fought against. (Officials did not give a reason for firing Detective Marinković.)

Since Detective Marinković’s last brush with retaliation three years ago, Pištaljka has grown to include lawyers, in addition to journalists, so we offered him – and several other police whistleblowers – pro bono assistance in filing for interim relief. We filed the request on December 30th, 2015, and the court asked for the government’s reply on December 31; it never came. Action was swift with the judge reinstating Detective Marinković  on January 6 — a remarkable feat considering it was the holiday season and most judges were on vacation.

Not all judges were as quick to react. In the case of Miloš Krstić, an elementary school secretary who was fired after he had reported a corrupt school principal, it took four months and an appeal to have interim relief issued. Krstić is now back at his old job. Krstić was the first whistleblower in Serbia to use the law and the court’s mishandling of his initial request can be attributed to growing pains.

As of early January, seven interim relief decisions protecting whistleblowers have been issued by Serbian courts, including a case in the private sector where the judge issued the decision only two days after the whistleblower requested it.

Much of this success hails from trainings for judges given last year by the Government Accountability Project‘s (GAP) Legal Director Tom Devine. All across Serbia , judges acknowledge the positive impact of  Devine’s training.. The training was also very useful for our lawyers – Pištaljka now uses journalistic and legal techniques to make court submissions as clear and as convincing as possible, in effect making it easier for judges to issue favorable rulings.

As more whistleblowers turn to the courts for help, we expect judges to use these first cases as guidance in providing quick and effective protection for whistleblowers.  If  our societies want whistleblowers to come forward about corruption and abuse, we must ensure that they are always able to depend on such safeguards.

 

GAP and Pištaljka are both active members of WIN.

 

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