Sabina Ćudić shocked the collective conscience of Bosnian society last year when she revealed photos of disabled children tied to their beds at a care home outside Sarajevo. Last week Ćudić was honored for her integrity, courage and public service.
Ćudić, a member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, was presented with the Free Speech Award from the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection. Ćudić made international news on November 20 when she showed photos of children restrained with bed sheets and ropes at the Institute for the Care of Mentally Handicapped Children and Youth, a publicly managed care home in Pazarić.
Children lay in their beds and on the floor of the facility with their hands and feet bound. One was tied to a radiator, and another was straitjacketed and crying on a bed. “This situation can be seen as modern slavery,” Ćudić said as she revealed the photos at a press conference. The next day 1,000 people protested in front of a government building in Sarajevo.
“The very approach to children with disabilities in Bosnia shows that we consider this a problem, and that we want to push this problem under the rug. In this case, the problem was isolated outside the community,” Ćudić told the news portal Interview.ba. “We have removed this problem from sight so that we do not think and face our own brutality.”
Joining the Whistleblower Coalition in honoring Ćudić were Bosnian NGOs Infohouse and the Public Interest Advocacy Center.
“This is a national scandal that has enraged everyone,” said Infohouse Executive Director Dženana Alađuz. “Sabina Ćudić deserves our most sincere gratitude for discovering what was happening in this institution. We hope, due to her efforts, that positive change will follow.”
“The first few weeks that followed the posting of the photos were probably the hardest in my life,” Ćudić told Interview.ba. “At that time, the amount of political pressure showed me the fragility of our system: that with one announcement of this kind, you can shake the top of the state. It is clear how much these parties are vertically bound, and how much they protect each other regardless of the atrocities that are committed.”
The Free Speech Award is presented annually by the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection and the European Center for Whistleblower Rights. International Whistleblower Day (usually celebrated March 24 but delayed this year due to COVID-19) is the day when the world honors citizens who have the integrity and courage to report misconduct while others remain silent