Freedom of the press in Bosnia: By force and by law

Freedom of the press in Bosnia: By force and by law

In Bosnia, journalists are attacked and their cars damaged. Now politicians are also rushing against the free press.

broken pencils

Journalists break pencils in front of the parliament in Banja Luka as a sign of protest Photo: Radivoje Pavicic/ap

It was a balmy Saturday night when violence erupted in a group of people in Banja Luka, the capital of Serb-dominated Bosnia and Herzegovina. They actually just wanted to take part in an LGBTQ+ demonstration. But after news broke that the demonstration scheduled for Sunday had been banned, several dozen people gathered at the office of the Bosnian section of Transparency International to discuss the situation.

Just as the group, consisting mainly of young women and journalists, was about to leave the building, they were physically attacked. Those affected reported that they had been chased through the streets by several dozen men with insults and insults. A young woman described how she and her boyfriend were injured by the thugs lying on the ground. The police officers who were nearby did not intervene. Only when some of those affected came to the station were their statements taken. Afterwards, the police claimed they were looking for the attackers. So far, however, no perpetrators have been tracked down, which was to be expected.

Because the political authorities had already defamed the demonstration of the LGBTQ+ community in advance and thus encouraged right-wing attackers. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights therefore sharply criticized the young mayor of the city, Draško Stanivuković, who had taken office as a beacon of hope.

Protective wall for patriarchal family values

The mayor like the President of the Entity, Milorad Dodik, had explained in the run-up to the planned demonstration that Banja Luka was a protective wall to defend the “patriarchal, traditional family values” of the Bosnian Serbs. “Is it traditional Bosnian Serb values ​​to beat up Bosnian girls?” asked one of the victims.

The brawl, which was announced and sanctioned from above, created a lynch atmosphere against “LGBTQ+ activists and journalists,” according to the Helsinki Federation. Existing laws are not only circumvented, but deliberately broken. Milorad Dodik said he hopes the authorities will prevent both outdoor and indoor meetings. The activists should not even be allowed to meet in one room.

Dodik now wants to lay the foundations for a society that is not critical of him, criticize journalists in the online magazines that still exist. Critical journalism is no longer acceptable to Dodik, especially since it was revealed that last fall’s elections had seen critical irregularities that made his victory in the presidential elections possible.

These journalists are increasingly becoming the target of “popular anger”. So their cars were damaged. Nikola Morača, a journalist from EuroBlic and SrpskaInfo, and Aleksandar Trifunović, editor-in-chief of the online magazine Buka, found their cars damaged one morning.

The same methods for 20 years

No big deal, just property damage, you might think. But we know from the past that something like this can be a sign of dangerous attacks. Such methods have been used to threaten critical spirits in the Serbian republic for 20 years and force them to leave the country.

Tanja Topić, a well-known political commentator, points out that Dodik is preparing laws banning citizens from contacting foreign embassies such as the American or British, because they have repeatedly criticized Dodik’s violations of the law.

Now Dodik wants a law based on the Russian model about the activities of non-governmental organizations in the parliament of the Serbian republic, according to which contacts with NGOs and those financed by foreigners can be prohibited. “Defamation” is to be punished with high fines of up to 60,000 euros. Neither individual journalists nor Internet portals can raise such sums in Bosnia.

The American and British Embassies protest, but the EU Mission in Bosnia, as well as the High Representative, the German Christian Schmidt, have not yet imposed any penalties on Dodik.

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