a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order, typically requiring violence to occur for the prosecution of such incitement. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust.
On May 11, police launched an investigation against demonstrators for their participation in regular antigovernment protests, at which some brandished the slogan “Death to Jansism,” in reference to Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The Prime Minister claimed the slogan was a death threat that could escalate into physical violence. The state prosecution did not press charges, determining on May 20 that the word “death” in the slogan should be seen as metaphorical and as a call to halt the policies of Jansa.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Nevertheless, journalist organizations reported growing hateful rhetoric and threats against journalists online, spurred by animosity from officials. The International Press Institute highlighted a series of Twitter attacks on reporters, “enabling a wider increase in digital harassment from online trolls and contributing to an increasingly hostile climate for watchdog journalism.”
On March 15, the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters retweeted an insulting claim about investigative journalist Blaz Zgaga, alleging that he had a “COVID Marx-Lenin virus,” after Zgaga filed a freedom of information request regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this tweet, progovernment media and social media users engaged in smears and verbal attacks on Zgaga, claiming he was an “enemy of the state.” Zgaga also received online death threats. Several international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as press freedom groups, condemned the threats against the journalist, and European Union Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova contacted the country’s authorities about the media freedom situation. In a reply to the Council of Europe, the government condemned the case of alleged harassment of the journalist, but stated that there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the harassment.
The European Commission reported in its September rule of law report for the country that concerns have been raised by stakeholders about possible politically motivated changes to the funding of the national public broadcaster and the governance of the national press agency.
Media freedom watchdogs also expressed concerns about government moves to exert pressure on public broadcaster RTV through changes to its governing bodies, especially following criticism by government officials of RTV’s reporting that was unfavorable to the government. One of the new administration’s early actions was to replace a subset of RTV’s supervisory board, intended to insure its financial independence, as is not uncommon with a change in government. Though the move was not unprecedented, one of the supervisory board members appealed, noting their terms had not expired. The case was still being adjudicated, however, an attempt to change two other supervisory board members was blocked by a parliamentary committee on May 21. The government also appointed some new members to RTV’s Program Council, which oversees its editorial policy and selects its director general.
On March 20, Prime Minister Jansa accused RTV on Twitter of spreading lies about an alleged decision by the government to raise salaries of ministers and state secretaries, adding that “obviously, there are too many of you and you are overpaid.” The Association of Slovenian Journalists expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s statement, asserting that it should be understood as a threat to RTV employees against possible loss of employment if they do not report according to the government’s liking. RTV Director General Igor Kadunc claimed that the comment had damaging consequences for media freedom and was aimed at the subordination of the central media to one political option.
RTV complained about a growing number of insulting tweets and verbal attacks against the institution and its journalists by politicians, labeling such attacks an attack on democracy. Following these verbal attacks, RTV journalists experienced several physical attacks by nongovernment actors.
The International Press Institute estimated that “few countries in Europe have experienced such a swift downturn in press and media freedom after a new government came to power,” leading to “a worrying decline in press freedom in a very short space of time in a country previously considered a relative safe haven for independent journalism, sending up further warning signs about deteriorating media freedom in Central Europe.”
Responding to allegations of pressure on the media in the country, the government attempted to justify its criticisms of the press by providing additional context in a April 7 letter to the Council of Europe, stating that the situation is a result of the country’s media having “their origin in the former communist regime” and the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of circles close to the left.
Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in media, which could limit the diversity of views expressed. On July 23, the European Commission expressed concern about transparency of media ownership in its rule of law report for the country. Particularly in the case of multiple shell owners, the law may make it difficult to identify who ultimately controls editorial decision making.
The European Commission also reported on a high level of political influence over some media companies, which could trickle down to the press and broadcasters at regional and local levels. Most media in the country are perceived by the population as somewhat biased, with those on the right asserting that the predominantly left-leaning media environment prevents a full spectrum of political views from being widely expressed.
Watchdog groups’ concerns about alleged financing of certain Slovenian media outlets by sources tied to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party increased on September 30, when Telekom Slovenije sold Planet TV to Hungary’s TV2 Media, owned by Jozsef Vida, reportedly linked to the business network of Fidesz. Two Slovenian media outlets associated with the Slovenian Democratic Party, weekly newspaper Demokracija and the NovaTV web portal and TV channel, have long been rumored to receive funding from Fidesz allies.
The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.
Violence and Harassment: RTV journalists reported several physical attacks. On March 31, a news crew from RTV was verbally abused and threatened in the street by an unidentified individual as they were reporting from the capital, Ljubljana. After walking away, the assailant returned to the crew’s company vehicle and damaged the tires.
Such incidents were strongly condemned by the country’s senior officials and parties, including Prime Minister Jansa, who tweeted: “We condemn any form of street violence targeting journalists or anyone else, as well as any instigating of such acts.”
On June 1, Eugenija Carl, a journalist at RTV, received an envelope addressed to her containing a threatening handwritten note and a suspicious white powder that she said caused irritation and gave her a sore throat.
Physical attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors occurred particularly during protests. For example, on November 5, an unknown assailant hit photojournalist Borut Zivulovic in the head, apparently deliberately as journalists covered violent clashes with riot police during protests in Ljubljana. Press freedom groups strongly condemned the attack. A police investigation is ongoing. Several other media outlets also reported that their crews were intimidated, pushed, and obstructed during the protest.
During an antigovernment rally in Ljubljana on October 16, a protester, rapper Zlatan “Zlatko” Cordic, approached a cameraman for progovernment broadcaster Nova24 and grabbed his camera, demanding that he erase the recording. After police intervened, the camera was returned. Several videos of the incident appeared on social media. Journalist groups on both sides of the political spectrum condemned violence against media in response to the incident.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Instances of overt political pressure on the press remained isolated. The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure, nonstandard forms of employment such as freelance or student status, and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.
Libel/Slander Laws: The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws criminalizing hate speech, libel, and slander. The government has not used the law to retaliate against journalists or political opponents.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-Country Movement: Due to COVID-19, the government instituted limitations on movement to within the borders of an individual’s municipality of residence from mid-March until mid-May. These limitations were re-established in October along with a 30-day epidemic declaration that included a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. On December 17, the government formally extended the limitations by another 30 days, from December 18 until January 16, 2021. In the four regions with the best epidemiological situation, individuals using the national contact tracing app #OstaniZdrav (#StayWell) will be able to move between municipalities despite the general ban on intermunicipal movement.
Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the European Court of Human Rights, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in the country. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs alleged that border authorities continued to reject without due process most individuals seeking asylum.
NGOs reported that asylum seekers returned by Slovenian police to Croatia have no legal remedies to challenge border police decisions. NGOs alleged Croatian police forcibly pushed returning many migrants to Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amnesty International stated that the expulsions from Slovenia took place without appropriate procedural safeguards against refoulement. This situation has made it difficult for migrants to apply for international protection.
On August 24, the Supreme Court overturned an Administrative Court ruling that blocked the return of migrants to Croatia without a formal Slovenian decision, effectively authorizing the immediate return of migrants to Croatia. The Administrative Court had ruled fast-track returns based on a Slovenian-Croatian interstate agreement but without a specific Slovenian decision in each case violated European and Slovenian legislation and constitutionally secured rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the 2006 agreement provides for the summary return of migrants.
The government also contended it lacks the capacity to process and house all new asylum seekers. Seven EU members, including the country, addressed a letter to the European Commission in June, expressing opposition to compulsory redistribution of migrants among EU member states.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Due to an increase in numbers of asylum seekers and a backlog of cases, applicants were detained at asylum centers while waiting to lodge their application for international protection. The lack of capacity to address large numbers of arrivals resulted in lower hygienic standards and health risks.
A migrant rights advocacy group, Taskforce for Asylum, maintained that authorities were violating the rights of foreigners kept at the Center for Aliens in Postojna were being violated by returning them to Croatia. The center held 96 asylum seekers as of July, mostly from Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Algeria, with 55 of them in the process of obtaining international protection. The remaining foreigners were in the process of being returned to neighboring countries on the basis of bilateral agreements or deported to their home countries.
Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.
Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle refugees from non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey. Individuals granted refugee status are eligible for naturalization once they have fulfilled the necessary legal conditions.