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Attackers beat, injure Bosnian Serb journalist reporting on suspicious death

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BELGRADE (Reuters) – A Bosnian Serb journalist who reported on the suspicious death of a young man was severely beaten late on Sunday, when hooded men attacked him in the Bosnian Serb capital of Banja Luka, his employer the local BN TV said.

After the attack, Vladimir Kovacevic was admitted to a local hospital where he was treated for injuries to his head and body.

On his Twitter account Kovacevic posted a photo which showed his head bandaged and face covered in cuts and bruises.

He also said the masked men who ambushed him near his apartment escaped in a car.

The attack prompted a peaceful protest of reporters and activists in Banja Luka on Monday.

In a statement, the private BN TV, demanded that the interior ministry of the Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia, find the perpetrators and warned of “constant (verbal) attacks from certain political circles.”

BN TV also demanded police ensure the safety and freedom of movement for its employees.

“Otherwise we will be forced to take steps to protect ourselves,” it said.

Kovacevic was working on a story about the controversial death of a young man from Banja Luka this year which triggered ongoing mass protests.

On 18 March 2018, 21-year-old David Dragicevic went out with friends but was declared missing after failing to return home. His body was later found in a creek in downtown Banja Luka.

Police said he drowned and had alcohol and drugs in his body. His father said he was captured, tortured and killed.

In June, an inquiry board formed by the Bosnian Serb parliament adopted a 320-page long report concluding that there was ample evidence that Dragicevic was murdered and that the public prosecutor should immediately respond to those findings.

In July, parliament, which is dominated by loyalists of Milorad Dodik, the President of the Republika Srpska, rejected the report but said that prosecutors in the case had made numerous errors.

Dodik on Monday condemned the attack on Kovacevic, visiting him in hospital and demanding police solve the case.

“Attacks against the press are attacks against the freedom of speech,” said Dodik who frequently lashes out at reporters who criticise his policies.

The European Union which Bosnia ultimately wants to join, as well as the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also strongly condemned attacks and threats against journalists.

The association of Bosnian journalists said the attack was aimed at pressuring independent media and blamed Dodik for labelling independent media and reporters as enemies and spies.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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