The United States, the European Union and Bosnian journalists expressed outrage Monday after two masked assailants attacked and seriously hurt a reporter for an independent Bosnian Serb television station. BNTV reporter Vladimir Kovacevic was hospitalized following the beating attack late Sunday outside his home in Banja Luka, the main town in the Serb-run part of Bosnia.
Kovacevic posted a photo on Twitter that showed his head bloodied and bandaged. He said the unknown men attacked him with metal bars as he was returning home from reporting on an anti-government rally.
"I tried to defend myself and cried for help as they beat me on the head and body," BNTV quoted Kovacevic as saying. "Then they escaped in a car."
BNTV has faced criticism from the Bosnian Serb authorities for its independent editorial policies. The television started its program on Monday with a blackened screen.
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo tweeted that the attacks on journalists are "unacceptable."
"We strongly defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. When journalists are silenced, society suffers," the embassy said.
EU Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said she was "profoundly shocked by the violent assault."
"This is the latest of several alarming attacks against journalists and media actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Mijatovic said.
She called "on the authorities of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb mini-state) to identify and punish those responsible for the attack and to step up their efforts to create a climate in which journalists can work freely and safely."
The Bosnian journalists association said the attack was aimed at intimidating independent media and blamed authoritarian Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik for leading a campaign against independent media by proclaiming their reporters "enemies, spies and foreign stooges."
By doing that, Dodik made journalists "open targets" for attackers, the group said in a statement.
Dodik visited Kovacevic in the hospital Monday, saying he was certain authorities were not behind the assault.
"It is not true that a lynching atmosphere exists, and I reject that," Dodik told journalists after the visit, describing Kovacevics beating as an isolated case.
A pro-Russian nationalist who has sought the separation of Serbs from the rest of Bosnia, Dodik has stepped up his campaign against the opposition and the West ahead of the countrys Oct. 7 general elections.
Hundreds of journalists, opposition supporters and activists staged a protest in downtown Banja Luka on Monday.