Some seven-thousand people rallied on Zagreb's King Tomislav Square on Saturday in support of victims of sexual violence and to denounce their lack of protection from state institutions.
The protests, held in cities around the country, were prompted by a recent case in Zadar in which seven youths stand accused of raping and blackmailing an underage girl over the span of one year. Five of the suspects, who are currently remanded in 30 days' investigative custody, had been released briefly last week, prompting widespread public outrage.
The protesters in Zagreb carried banners expressing support to victims of sexual violence and strong opposition to lenient penalties for perpetrators of sexual offences.
The protest was organized by several women's organizations and platforms, which called for urgent action to be taken to protect the victim from Zadar and punish those responsible for the heinous crime. At the same time, they have asked the public to refrain from unlawful attacks on judges and suspects
"The Zadar case that we all have been appalled by reveals the structural and institutional nature of violence against women, the ruthlessness of perpetrators of violence grows with their social, economic and political power," said Petra Karmelić from the Platform for Reproductive Rights.
The dark and violent reality is due to a lack of a systematic prevention program, lack of support for victims and inadequate punishment of perpetrators, she added.
Jelena Veljača, from the Save Me platform, said she strongly condemned blaming civil society members, including the media, NGO's, civil initiatives, and the public as a whole, for the unrest. "The fact that the public is outraged by this case is because this is the straw that broke the camel's back. This has nothing to do with civil society," she said.
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