News Box

Child Pornography, Hate Speech and Cybercrime Surge in Balkans

Photo: Unsplash/Ash Edmonds

Romania and Croatia saw a rise in child pornography cases, hate speech and discrimination were reported elsewhere in the Balkans, cybercrime and other online violations increased.

Romania experienced a surge in cases involving child pornography in April, with some victims as young as seven years old, followed by Croatia.

The incidents left both countries reeling and have raised questions about how to prevent such crimes. The cases involve the production and sale of child pornography, pimping and trafficking of underage girls and the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to recruit underage girls.

Several incidents of hate speech and discrimination were reported in the Balkans, shedding light on the ongoing challenges of social tensions and intolerance in the region.

Incidents included derogatory statements about migrants in North Macedonia, racist comments from a pro-government publicist in Hungary, derogatory statements about the people of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, online threats and insults towards an economist in Albania and the detention of a Montenegrin port board member for inciting national and religious hatred on Facebook.

Finally, cybercrime and online violations increased in the Balkans as phishing campaigns, hacking groups, and fraudulent emails target citizens and institutions. These attacks have raised concerns about the potential risks of cybercrime and the need for increased vigilance and cybersecurity measures. Examples include a phishing campaign targeting directors and managers of companies in Bosnia, fraudulent emails allegedly from the head of the Public Security Bureau in North Macedonia, and the leak of classified information from Albanian authorities believed to have been obtained by Iranian hackers.

Child Porn Scandals Rock Romania, Croatia

In April, Romania saw a surge in cases involving child pornography, with victims as young as seven years old. Croatia recorded similar cases.

Women with their eyes covered with violet scarfs participate in a flash mob in front of Romania’s Internal Affairs Minister in Bucharest, Romania, 01 March 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE/BOGDAN CRISTEL

One of the most egregious cases in Romania on April 4 involved a family in Cotorca, a village near Bucharest, who produced and sold child pornography. The victims were an underage boy and a girl who were forced to have sex with adults and be recorded. The videos were sold for 50 to 100 euros each. One suspect was arrested, but the others remain in Cotorca, leaving many wondering whether justice has been served.

Another case, on April 7, involved the trafficking and pimping of two underage girls in Mehedinti, a county bordering Serbia and Bulgaria. The girls were physically and psychologically abused, coerced into prostitution and sold to men in Drobeta-Turnu Severin, a town over 350 kilometres west of Bucharest. The suspects, three young men aged 16 to 23, used social media and escort websites to recruit the victims.

In another case, Romania’s Directorate for Investigating Terrorism and Organized Crime on April 10 arrested three individuals for a pimping scam involving underage girls recruited on Facebook. Two suspects acted as “lover boys,” convincing two girls aged 14 and 15 to prostitute themselves in Austria, Germany, and the UK. The suspects continued to pimp the underage victims across Europe, using escort websites to find clients even after they were already under investigation by Romanian prosecutors.

Besides these cases, several arrests of individuals were made in Romania between April 12, April 26 and 27, who used social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to recruit underage girls and produce and sell child pornography. The suspects were found with thousands of pornographic files involving children.

In Croatia, between March 30 and April 4, two men were arrested for involvement in child pornography, one of whom is accused of accessing and distributing at least 71 images and 15 videos. The other is suspected of downloading and storing over 16,000 photos and 270 videos. A third individual has been detained for sexual abuse and enticing minors to meet for sexual purposes.

Hate Speech and Discrimination in Balkans Highlight Ongoing Intolerance

A number of instances of hate speech and discrimination were reported across the Balkans in April, highlighting the ongoing challenges of social tensions and intolerance in the region.

A migrant clutches to a fence as they are waiting for a permission to move towards the train station at a refugee camp near Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 21 September 2015. Photo: EPA/NAKE BATEV

One case in North Macedonia occurred on April 1, when a Twitter user posted a message containing hate speech against migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh who are considered a solution to a labour shortage in North Macedonia. The tweet, which contained inflammatory and unfounded accusations, sparked condemnation before it was deleted by the user.

On April 2, media outlets in Hungary shared a story claiming that migrants had kidnapped a baby from its mother in Serbia. The story first appeared in the Serbian media years ago, back in 2017, and was not confirmed at the time. It was accompanied now by racist comments from a pro-government publicist in Hungary.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the chair of the state presidency, Željka Cvijanović, made derogatory statements about Sarajevo’s population on April 7. In response to a statement by a member of the Presidency, Cvijanović made comments viewed as racist and inflammatory, sparking public outrage.

On April 9, Pejka Medić, former director of BH Radio 1 in Bosnia, announced her departure from the national public radio channel on Twitter. The tweet led to a barrage of hate speech and incitement, highlighting the discrimination and intolerance in social media spaces.

In Montenegro, Port of Bar board member Milos Ostojic was detained on April 25 for inciting national and religious hatred on Facebook. Ostojic had posted a video in which he made derogatory and inflammatory comments about Islam and Bosniaks, sparking condemnation.

Finally, on April 5, in Albania, the economist Dena Topi reported receiving online threats and insults after sharing videos of herself and her daughter wearing matching clothing. Critics accused Topi of seeking attention and breaking social norms, highlighting the challenges faced by women and mothers in the public sphere.

Phishing Campaigns, Cyber Attacks, Target Citizens, Institutions

In the last month, several instances of cybercrime and online violations occurred across the Balkans, highlighting the need for increased vigilance and cybersecurity measures.

From phishing campaigns posing as law enforcement to hacking groups leaking classified information, citizens and authorities alike have been impacted by these digital attacks. These incidents have raised concerns about the potential risks of cybercrime and its impact on individuals, businesses, and governments in the region.

An exterior view of the Europol headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands, 08 June 2021. Photo: EPA-EFE/JERRY LAMPEN

On April 6, citizens of Bosnia began reporting receiving emails signed by so-called police officer Mirsad Vilić, with police and Europol logos, informing them of an ongoing investigation and seeking personal information.

The emails were part of a phishing campaign, which has been ongoing since November 2022, targeting directors and managers of companies. The fraudster(s) were not identified. A Federation entity police press release warned that the aim was to establish contact with recipients to gain the benefit of their property.

Similarly, on April 6, North Macedonian citizens received fraudulent emails allegedly from the head of the Public Security Bureau, Sasho Tasevski, regarding an ongoing investigation with Europol. The emails stated that the recipients were subject to legal proceedings for fictitious crimes and requested personal information. The country’s Interior Ministry later confirmed that the emails were fake.

In Albania, on April 3, a group called Homeland Justice published three RAR files on Telegram containing documents from the Albanian Authority for Electronic and Postal Communications, AKEP, which were believed to have been obtained by Iranian hackers.

Homeland Justice also published three more RAR files on April 6, containing documents from the Albanian National Authority for the Security of Classified Information NSA, which were also believed to have been obtained by Iranian hackers.

Finally, on April 11, Homeland Justice published a third group of RAR files with attached documents from the NSA, which were again believed to have been hacked from Iranian sources.

Serbian Journalists, TV Hosts, Targeted with Threats, Intimidation

Serbia witnessed a disturbing trend of digital rights violations in April. Multiple incidents of threatening messages and intimidation were reported against public figures and journalists, highlighting the precarious situation of free speech in the country.

On April 10, Olja Bećković, a prominent journalist and host of the TV show “Utisak nedelje”, received threatening text messages on her personal phone from Sime Spasić, president of the Association of Families of Kidnapped, Murdered and Missing Persons from Kosovo and Metohija. The incident underscored the need for stronger legal protections for journalists and media professionals, who are often targeted for their work.

On the same day, Vlado Georgijev, owner of the Danube Cargo company, threatened journalists from who had published an article about his business. Georgijev’s actions were seen as a clear attempt to silence the media and impede free and independent reporting.

Adding to this trend, on April 9, presenter Ivan Ivanovic on Twitter reported that he had also received threats from Sime Spasic, directed towards his family. Such threats not only endanger the safety of individuals but also create a chilling effect on free speech and journalistic independence.

BIRD Community

Are you a professional journalist or a media worker looking for an easily searchable and comprehensive database and interested in safely (re)connecting with more than thousands of colleagues from Southeastern and Central Europe?

We created BIRD Community, a place where you can have it all!

Join Now