LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — A European human rights envoy warned Friday of a “marked deterioration” of freedom of expression and of the media in Slovenia under the government of right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa.
The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a memorandum that “some steps taken by the Slovenian government in recent months risk undermining the ability of independent voices to speak freely.”
“Hostile public discourse, as well as smear campaigns and intimidation targeting civil society activists and those who express critical opinions, harm free expression and can have a chilling effect on media freedom,” Mijatovic wrote, according to a press release from her office.
Mijatovic urged the government to act to improve the situation and listed recommendations.
The Slovenian government disputed the findings in comments sent to Mijatovic in response. The freedom of the media have not been violated by any legal acts, it said.
“Any criticism leveled at the concrete coverage of the media by politicians and the prime minister cannot in any way be considered as an attack on media freedom and the independence of journalistic work,” the government said. “Freedom of expression is a right that belongs to everyone, including the government and its representatives, and does not end with high rhetoric, but also includes critical expression.”
Populist Jansa has faced growing criticism for what is seen as an increasingly authoritarian approach in the style of his ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Thousands of people protested in Slovenia recently, demanding the government’s ouster and an early election over what they said were eroding democratic standards in the country of 2 million.
A traditionally moderate Alpine nation, Slovenia also has seen a rise in political tensions recently that critics blame on government-fueled hate speech and lack of tolerance.
Mijatovic called on the Slovenian authorities to take action to appease those tensions and to “encourage mutual respect in the exchange of opinions.”
“Members of the government must refrain from making stigmatizing and misleading comments about the work of civil society, and should publicly condemn such discourse by others,” she said.
Jansa has repeatedly dismissed any criticism at home and from abroad as a liberal conspiracy against his conservative government. He is known for attacking journalists and critics on social media.
Mijatovic listed a “range of problems” regarding media freedoms, including “harassment, intimidation and criminal lawsuits against journalists, restrictions on access to public information, and government actions against public service media.”
“The commissioner deplores in particular a trend of sexist harassment and misogynistic speech against female journalists,” said the press release.
MIjatovic also expressed regret that the “Slovenian government appears to have used the COVID19 pandemic to discourage the free expression of dissent or political opposition” by blanket bans on protests and fines for violations.
Jansa is a veteran politician who served as prime minister twice before. A backer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Jansa congratulated Trump prematurely while votes from last year’s U.S. presidential election were still being counted.
The Associated Press