The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić featured as a guest on the show "150 minuta" on Prva TV.

Reporter: Acting teacher Mr. Miroslav Mika Aleksić is in custody on suspicion of sexually abusing his students from 2012 until 2020. The Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade is conducting an investigation against Aleksić. The Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, visited Aleksić two days ago and talked with him following a complaint by his attorney. What exactly the acting teacher has complained about, we’re about to hear from my guest, the Protector of Citizens. We are also joined in our studio by Mr. Igor Jurić, Founder of Tijana Jurić Foundation who will likewise comment on the new situation. Mr. Pašalić, went to visit Mr. Aleksić two days ago, what is he complaining about? You are in contact with the attorney.

Pašalić: That’s how it was reported. We’re obliged as the Institution of the Protector of Citizens, and that is in the Law on the Protector of Citizens, to control the conditions in which persons deprived of liberty are, not only detainees but inmates as well, and persons in psychiatric institutions.

Reporter: You’ve had the obligation to carry out that visit.

Pašalić: This was a regular visit to the District Prison, that is, as it is better known to the public, it is the detention unit in Bačvanska Street or the Central Prison, so on that occasion we talked with a number of detainees and, among others, with Mr. Aleksić. Considering that the complaint by his attorney refers to the procedure, that is, the part that does not fall within our competence and those are some court activities. As the public knows, the Protector of Citizens, neither according to the Constitution in Article 138, nor according to the applicable Law on the Protector of Citizens, has the possibility to control either the court administration or the trial process, as it is said, in principle or on the merits. What we are discussing during the visit are the conditions in which someone is in custody. Conditions in detention are far stricter than conditions in prison. Persons in detention stay in their cells for 23 hours, are entitled to 1 hour walk, while in prisons serving sentences, inmates usually do some work, in the sense of common premises maintenance or doing some other chores or working most often in some workshops.

Reporter: Just to tell to the viewers, the Higher Court in Belgrade on February 12 extended the detention for another 30 days The attorney did not complain about that, but about the conditions.

Pašalić: You didn’t understand me. The attorney precisely complained about the thing that the Protector of Citizens, due to the law and the Constitution that I just quoted, cannot have as the subject of his work and actions. And regarding the conditions in prison itself, the detainees, inmates or relatives of those in psychiatric institutions complain about them. That's why I go to the scene and conduct interviews individually, and that's how the talk with Mr. Aleksić was carried out.

Reporter: You had conversation.

Pašalić: I had a conversation not only with Mr. Aleksić but with several detainees, especially because it’s very important that they are in a part that is a sort of prison hospital, because they are people who have certain health problems. Since there are special conditions in that hospital and such detainees are treated separately, it is always a place we visit.

Reporter: Mr. Jurić, what’s your view on this Mr. Pasalić’s visit? I assume Mr. Pašalić that it’s not the first time that you go to such a prison unit and visit people who are treated in the way Mr. Aleksić is.

Pašalić: It is not my whim, it is a legal obligation, I visited almost all prisons in the Republic of Serbia.

Reporter: Upon invitation.

Pašalić: Not only upon invitation, I told you at the beginning – there is an obligation to control.

Reporter: I understand, just tell me have you ever gone on a call?

Pašalić: Of course, prisoners who are serving their sentences can use the landline phone at certain hours, as they are not entitled to a mobile phone during the day, and they usually call us and complain about certain prison conditions. Then it is checked, most often by going to the scene in interviews with them, with the Court Administration, and then certain conclusions are drawn. You have to understand one thing, the Protector of Citizens is an institution that acts objectively, we don’t have the right to a biased attitude, at least in relation to the work we do. I can think of anyone in a way that people mostly attach some subjective feeling to. When it comes to the job, the one I do, there are no subjective...

Reporter: I absolutely understand you, but the public is so upset about this whole case.

Pašalić: You said it perfectly. There is one reason for detention that is public nuisance. I can't know whether that was one of the reasons for ordering the detention of Mr. Aleksić, but that's one of the reasons why we highlighted this conversation, precisely because it's about the children who are the case, we'll see when the Court gives its the final word.

Reporter: We need to wait, that's right. Mr. Jurić, what’s your view regarding this situation?

Jurić: Of course, I listen to Mr. Pašalić and he really speaks like a bachelor of law. From that legal point of view, we can talk about the fact that you should be objective, realistic, that there must be a presumption of innocence that you must objectively take care of all citizens, even those who have committed the most serious of crimes. We can in a way, if of course it is proven, put this case in that category of the most serious crimes. On the other hand, I am very upset as a citizen it is close to me now that I was invited to the program, I was very glad to point out to a fact that some other victims are really not taken care of.

Reporter: What hit you the hardest?

Jurić: To be specific, I went now, this weekend, to visit a girl from Niš, who also raised public concern, when she was the victim of a rapist for 10 days. Talking with her, I learned now after all, when she had a little strength to speak about what was happening in those 10 days. Then, I saw a family that tragically lost their son; there was a search for him. I just have to make a digression related to this case so that I can indicate what I really want to say. At what point did I really see the difficult mental and physical condition of those children and those families, I asked them whether anyone had ever approached you? After the tragedy that we experienced, did anyone contact us and did the Protector of Citizens, then it was not Mr. Pašalić, but even if he had been, when we talking about the cases that happened, did anyone knock on their door and asked how are you today, in what conditions do you live, are you ready to continue living, do you need any help, are the conditions in which you live adequate to continue a normal life? I am talking about the victims; I want to be objective about the people who are in penitentiary institutions, but also about the people who should continue their lives after the severe tragedies that befall them. And because of that, today I can say with certainty - this is not my situation and some of my subjective feeling. I totally objectively claim that the victims and perpetrators of crimes are not treated in the same way, and even those who have not been proven. Let's weigh it out, and let's put those people on an equal footing. So, if we help and take care of people who are suspects today or are already proven perpetrators of serious crimes, let's put people who were victims on the same scale. I think that no one in this society, not even the Protector of Citizens, cares enough about these victims.

Reporter: Mr. Pašalić, please.

Pašalić: I'm glad that Mr. Jurić said this, I kept silent about it, believing that it was well mannered not to mention that I talked to that girl 8 months ago. Why I didn't make it public, I'll tell you, maybe when you say that in the media, it's not fair, but I have to say it. She insisted on talking to me, I went to talk to her family for precisely the reasons that Mr. Jurić said. I talked to the parents offering help, she insisted on talking to us, I didn’t insist on talking because of her secondary victimization. The reason why I kept silent all this time is that she told me that she had been much more affected by the fact that the media exploited her tragedy, than by the act that had happened to her. I have always been in favor of protecting children primarily in the media and from the media. No tragic case can be used for personal affirmation, and that is why I do not do it and I will never do it for the reason that what these children experience is multiplied. And you know very well that the Protector of Citizens has emphasized countless times that it is a must and, thank God if I may say so, that this is being met. And that is that during the interrogation and contacts with those children, they are not secondarily victimized, because what they have experienced is opened by someone else. I talked to a person who is from the profession, who deals specifically with retraumatization, to prevent further unravelling of the trauma, and then I learned one thing. The things with that girl are going well, that's what I was told.

Jurić: With whom? It's not true, they are not undergoing a treatment, I went to see them.

Pašalić: They are, I'll bring you the documentation.

Jurić: Well, do it.

Pašalić: I have no reason to argue, the important thing I wish to say, not for the two of us to argue. This is what the psychiatrist told me from Toponica, she is one of the mildest cases to whom a terrible event happened, and I don’t mean only the act of abduction, whose recovery is going relatively well. It can never go very well, unlike some boys and girls who are also there, where he goes much slower. I am almost certain that the man who did that will one day contact the Institution. As the institution was addressed during my predecessor by a man who committed a terrible deed in the Zvezdarska Šuma, where there were fatal consequences. The Protector of Citizens is the one who must hear that side as well. It is not easy, you have to have a lot of knowledge, a lot of life and work experience to make that kind of distinction.

Reporter: Mr. Pašalić, may I say in a common and humane terms - you should have a stomach for something like that.

Jurić: I will tell Dejan that I am ready to come to your show with the families of children who are victims of violence. And I would like them to tell you how much the state took care of them, whether the Protector of Citizens or anyone else, we are talking about institutions, visited them, whether he offered them any psychological or any other help. It’s not that Igor speaks here and speaks on behalf of himself in order to represent himself. No, Igor is also having a hard time and my family had a hard time living through what happened to us, no one approached us so this story... I repeat once again I am ready to bring that family and tell you what has been done and how many times they have had any therapy to help them. What condition the child is in and how good his recovery is, I would not be so sure of what the Protector of Citizens is saying now.

Pašalić: The difference is that our job is very difficult, we are not a non-governmental organization as it is colloquially called, these are citizens' associations, we cannot speak from a personal point of view. I may have an opinion but I will not make it public as long as I do this job. I have to make the situation objective as much as I can. What you said, one should have a stomach, hear the whole story countless times from both sides, without having the opportunity for what we requested in the new law, which is the monitoring of courts, and that is in some countries in Europe, that I have to say for the public. Specifically, you have in Montenegro that the Protector of Citizens can even interfere in court proceedings when it comes to the protection of particularly vulnerable groups, and what group is more vulnerable than children not to list them all. What is the point? The point is that often the desire to condemn someone through the media to someone who experienced a tragedy, because I do not go into the extent to which it is tragic and the extent to which it is horrible, the court will show by a final court verdict, much more harm if remained alive, but that it is constantly emphasized, this story. This case that provoked, I was surprised that our visit to one of the detainees, I mean Mr. Aleksić, caused such a significant public interest. There were people who had far bigger problems in the detention itself.

Jurić: How is it possible that you have an objective need to visit an inmate, since you have neither the legal nor any obligation of a victim who needs a Protector of Citizens? I have read your reports countless times; I follow very well what you are doing.

Pašalić: Sir, you must first look at the Protector of Citizens’ report to see what the Protector of Citizens is doing and who he is visiting.

Reporter: Let's go back to Mr. Aleksić, I don't have much time. Mr. Aleksić is alone in the detention unit.

Pašalić: These are the details that I will tell you, I will not tell you the number, but I will tell you the fact that these accommodation conditions in all detention units must meet certain conditions, according to the conditions prescribed by the international community. We are signatories to that convention.

Reporter: So, he is not alone.

Pašalić: There aren't many cells where someone is alone, the only question is what I don't believe the public is interested in, and those are the standards regarding the square meters, about the conditions of accommodation and all that.

Reporter: The public is probably more interested in the behavior of those people who are with Mr. Aleksić in the detention unit.

Pašalić: I know why they are interested; it is again a story at the level a reality show. There are people with him who also have health problems and that are the point. When we ask, we ask all three which are the health problems, we mostly take with us the medical team, and this time we did not. Otherwise, we take psychiatrists and doctors, then we point out the problems they have to the Court Administration if they are treated inadequately.

Reporter: The very invitation to you there immediately makes us think like I told you. You said it sounded like reality program to you.

Jurić: I will tell you, I know what the public is interested in, in general - the treatment of other inmates according to specific cases, when children are especially victims or when someone is sexually abused. They are not endangered as far as other prisoners are concerned, they have an extremely good status, and I am also talking about people who have committed the most serious of crimes. I know that they have special safeguard measures when they walk at a certain time. I'm talking about the man who killed our child, and I know very well the conditions in which he lives. Believe me, people don't have to worry about their safety. On the other hand, I also want to emphasize once again that I do not wish these people anything bad, on the contrary. Let them live and atone for their sins there, but I want the victims to be represented in the same way as those in penitentiary units, and to be protected and taken care of as much as the health of people who commit such crimes and people who are victims is taken care of today. I think the victims are much less taken care of.

Pašalić: The consequence of what we have done in relation to this particular case, I am very satisfied with that, is that we have requested the Ministry of Education to bring all these names of schools under its jurisdiction, that someone who registers as the company with the greatest responsibility as a business entity and actually performs some type of education and, what is especially important, for upbringing, must be constantly monitored. And not just an educational inspection. On 18 February, the line minister replied that this would be done because if this school had been controlled like others under the name of a state school were controlled; the question arises as to which information the inspection would come to.

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