Bosnian Serb Autonomous Region Reinstates Insult and Defamation in Criminal Code

Lawmakers in the Bosnian Serb-dominated part of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed amendments to the region’s Criminal Code on Thursday that reinstate insult and defamation and foresee harsh punishments. Critics say the move will seriously jeopardize freedom of speech and silence critics.

NS RSNational Assembly of thee Bosnian Serb autonomous region — Republika Srpska (RS), reinstated insult and defamation into the entity’s Criminal Code, establishing preconditions to persecute journalists, activists and ordinary people, all those who dare to criticize the RS authorities. (Photo: Narodna skupština Republike Srpske)The new legislation foresees up to ten years in prison for “publishing private photos that can cause harm” or fines of up to 120,000 convertible marks (US$67,000) for divulging detrimental personal and family circumstances.

Out of the 63 lawmakers of the Republika Srpska’s National Assembly (NSRS) attending the session in Banja Luka, 47 supported the amendments and 16 voted against.

Since Republika Srpska’s Justice Minister Miloš Bukejlović announced the amendments to the RS Criminal Code in March, numerous journalists and activists have warned that the new legislation will make uncovering corruption and other wrongdoings involving top politicians impossible.

“By adopting the amendments to the Criminal Code, the authorities in Republika Srpska today entered the phase of open repression against its citizens and positioned themselves among the worst authoritarian regimes in this part of the world,” warned Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH) in a statement following the NSRS session.

The corruption watchdog warned that “every citizen will suffer the consequences of the fact that defamation has been brought back into the criminal justice system,” as authorities, through appropriate prosecutors, will be able to persecute anyone who expresses criticism on social media or in another public place.

“Despite the argumentative warnings of journalists, media, civil society, and the most relevant international bodies, including the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the EU; the ruling regime, in a procedure of farcical manner that violated elementary democratic principles, adopted legal solutions that will have devastating consequences for freedom of speech throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina,” TI BiH stressed.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s journalistic community voiced severe regret over the parliamentarians’ decision, saying it would not be accepted, and they would question its constitutionality.

The BH Journalist Association BH Novinari stressed that the enacted changes will give authorities free rein, allowing them to punish any individual based on a written phrase or voiced stance after initiating criminal accusations for defamation.

Despite public protests against amending the insult and defamation into the RS Criminal Code, Miloš Bukejlović, the RS Minister of Justice, who proposed the amendment, emphasized that the “Draft Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Criminal Code of the RS respects the constitutional right and the rights arising from the European Convention on Human Rights on media freedom.”

He argued that lying and exposing someone to ridicule go beyond any socially acceptable standard.

“Freedom of expression is limited by other rights and must not be abused. Honor and reputation cannot be placed lower on the scale than any other guaranteed right,” Bukejlović said.

However, Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina warned that the “decisions of the RS National Assembly are clearly nothing but a prelude to an open repression and persecution of dissenters by the institutions of the regime.”

The watchdog pleaded for solidarity with the residents of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina and called on international partners to provide assistance and legal protection to all those who would bear the repercussions of such legal solutions.

“For its part, TI BiH will provide citizens free legal assistance through the Advocacy and Legal Advice Center,” read the statement.

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