Hundreds gathered in front of a church in downtown Banja Luka on Tuesday evening, demanding the release of Davor Dragicevic, the father of a young man whose quest for justice for his murdered son has turned into an ongoing mass anti-government protest.
Dragicevic believes police is covering up the murder and protecting the killer who he suspects is connected to the political elite in Bosnia's Serb-dominated semi-autonomous part, Republika Srpska (RS).
Since March, the family has won thousands of supporters.
Earlier on Tuesday, masked police in riot gear detained both parents and searched their home. Several supporters of the family have also been detained as well as leaders of the opposition who have expressed sympathy for the family.
Police clashed with citizens who tried to prevent the detentions.
David Dragicevic’s mother, Suzana Radanovic, has been released but the father, Davor Dragicevic, is still in custody.
When the crowd gathered again in the evening, people lit candles in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and yelled “let Davor go,” “Killers, killers!!” and “Justice for David.” A riot police cordon pushed the protesters to the very entrance of the church, where the crowd continued to yell their slogans and hold up a closed fist - a protest symbol Davor Dragicevic is known for.
Meanwhile, citizens of Sarajevo gathered in support of the crowd in Banja Luka and Muriz Memic, a Sarajevan whose son was killed in the capital much earlier than David announced he is heading to Banja Luka to support Dragicevic.
The two families have united in their pain over the unrelated and unsolved murders of their children and have often organised protests together or were guests at each other’s protests.
The crowd in Sarajevo yelled “We stand with Banja Luka,” “We stand with Davor and Suzana.”
Local and international officials have reacted to the scuffle in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of the Bosnian Serb entity, expressing concern over police conduct.
The office of Bosnia’s top international official, High Representative Valentin Inzko, issued a statement saying they were “deeply concerned over the events that occurred today in Banja Luka when Davor Dragicevic, several other persons connected with the "Justice for David" movement, and opposition politicians were arrested.” The office said it will continue to follow the situation closely.
A similar reaction came from the OSCE and the EU.
“Following closely the events in Banja Luka following the arrest of Davor Dragicevic and the clearing of Krajina square. Appeal for calm and avoidance of violence” tweeted the Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia, Bruce Berton.
The European Union Delegation in the country expressed concern over the Banja Luka developments, as well as support for Dragicevic.
“Deeply concerned with events unfolding in Banja Luka since this morning, including the arrest of Davor Dragicevic and several supporters of the #JusticeForDavid movement as well as political leaders” EU Special Representative to Bosnia, Lars Gunnar-Wigemark, tweeted on Tuesday.
His tweet was followed by a statement from his office which said, among other things, that the events in Banja Luka represent “a negative and alarming signal about the state of rule of law” in Bosnia.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini “fully stands behind the statements made by Lars Gunnar-Wigemark regarding the events in Banja Luka today,” EC spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told N1.
Meanwhile, David's mother, Suzana Radanovic, told N1 that RS police had raided her house looking for firearms but did not find any.
She encouraged citizens to join the protest Tuesday evening and show courage.
“This has gone too far. This has become a police state and the republic of one man,” she said, referring to Milorad Dodik, the leader of the party in power in the RS and the Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency.
The police operation in Banja Luka was, according to statements economy expert Svetlana Cenic gave N1, a “demonstration and exercise that is meant to show citizens that dictatorship, pressure and terror are on the scene.”
Cenic said that she suspects the entire police operation took place on Christmas day for a reason. It is “cowardice because the foreigners left for holidays,” she said.
“This had to happen on the 25th, as there are no foreigners here, nobody can see them,” she said, referring mostly to international officials in Bosnia.
Milorad Dodik’s Croat colleague in the tripartite Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said he finds the police activities in Banja Luka “inappropriate and cynical”.
“We want to see the RS institutions realise that they are leading a wrong kind of politics,” Komsic said in a press statement. He urged police in the RS to refrain from “such and similar persecutions” and “turn toward what police is supposed to do in a civilised world, which is fighting against crime.”
Komsic called for a police reform that would turn the force into a service for citizens and not for a political party or an irresponsible individual.
But Dodik reacted to Komsic’s statement swiftly, saying Komsic was using the young man’s death to score political points and accused him of siding with his opponents in Republika Srpska who also want a police reform.