A Serbian court has sentenced a former mayor to more than four years in prison for being behind an arson attack on the home of an investigative reporter.
Dragoljub Simonovic, the former mayor of Grocka, a Belgrade suburb, and a member of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was found guilty of ordering the attack on the house of corruption journalist Milan Jovanovic in December 2018.
He was sentenced to four years and three months in jail by the court in Belgrade on February 23.
Aleksandar Marinkovic, the man who threw the Molotov cocktail into the garage at Jovanovic’s house, received the same sentence in absentia. Marinkovic has fled since the incident and his whereabouts are not known.
The verdict is a rare instance of justice delivered for Serbian journalists who have faced violence and threats for years.
Jovanovic who believes he was targeted for investigating corruption cases linked to Simonovic while reporting for the local media portal Info Zig, was at home with his wife at the time of the attack. Both managed to escape through a window.
Shortly after his house was set on fire, unidentified assailants burgled the rented apartment where Jovanovic had moved.
“I hope that this verdict will be a harbinger of more media freedom in Serbia,” Jovanovic said, adding that he was “satisfied” with the ruling.
In a statement issued before the sentencing, the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) said that the verdict should send an unequivocal message that crimes against journalists will not go unpunished.
The UNS voiced hope that state institutions will go to greater lengths to protect reporters who investigate corruption among public officials.
Serbia, which is formally seeking European Union membership, is under growing pressure from the bloc to improve press freedoms and safety for reporters, especially for those investigating crime and corruption.
In its latest report, the EU said that “cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists are still a source of serious concern.”
President Aleksandar Vucic, who has been Serbia’s president since 2017, has faced accusations of curbing media freedoms and democracy.