SARAJEVO – The European Union has deplored the enforcement of amendments to the criminal code of the Republika Srpska entity, which reintroduces criminal penalties for defamation. An EU spokesperson said on Monday, as the legislation came into force in the Bosnian Serb entity, that these law changes impose “unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on independent media and civil society”.
“The law severely impacts the civil society environment and restricts freedom of expression and of the media in the Republika Srpska. It is a regrettable and unequivocal major step backward in protecting fundamental rights”, the EU statement said, N1 reported.
It is emphasized that the EU expects all authorities to work constructively to address the European Commission’s Opinion key priorities, which are necessary for the Commission to recommend opening the EU accession negotiations with BiH. “In particular, under key priority 12 the EU expects BiH ‘to guarantee freedom of expression and of the media and the protection of journalists”, adds the EU spokesperson.
The National Assembly in the Republika Srpska on 20 July adopted amendments to the Criminal Code of this entity that journalists and rights activists say would criminal defamation and stifle free speech. Last week, RS President Milorad Dodik signed a law, which came into force.
The amendments specify malicious or untrue statements about the person amounts to defamation and makes the offense punishable with fines. Hundreds of journalists and rights activists marched to the Parliament in Banja Luka on 18 July to protest against the amendment.
The opposition and NGOs also point out that the new regulatory provisions are nothing more than a tool in the hands of power to silence dissent and restrict public space, and as such they risk hampering journalistic and investigative work, as well as the efforts of activists and the opposition.
Critics also warn that criminal defamation proceedings against an individual would result in that individual being registered in the register of suspects and, if convicted, in the criminal record. This procedure could make it more difficult for a person accused or convicted of defamation to exercise a whole series of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement, the right to education, and the right to work.
Explaining the proposed law on amendments to the Criminal Code, Miloš Bukejlović, Minister of Justice of Republika Srpska, stated that public opinion actively participated in open discussions after the adoption of the bill. However, representatives of the media and NGOs described these discussions as purely formal, an integral part of a process that is nothing but a farse and an offense to journalists.