BH Journalists: Stop censorship on information about Covid-19 and institutional repression of freedom of expression

Sarajevo, 07. 04. 2020. – The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association publicly requests from the Government of the Republika Srpska and the Government of the Federation of BiH to ensure unobstructed access to information and decisions regarding the Covid-19 epidemic in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a safe and free manner, without any limitations, censorship or restrictions towards journalists. Such an approach calls for the urgent withdrawal of decisions and regulations with legal force concerning the restriction of freedom of expression and opinion in the media and on social networks, as well as the abolition of the power of individuals, police and other security agencies to censor the media outlets and citizens with rapid investigations or with setting very high fines, as in RS.

BH Journalists Steering Committee reminds that RS President Željka Cvijanović’s decree has taken effect today, “forbidding the presentation or transmission of fake news or allegations that cause panic or severely disrupt public order or peace” through “media outlets, social networks or other media of similar means”. At the same time, the Government of the Federation of BiH, through the Ministry of the Interior Affairs and cyber criminal units, started implementing measures for monitoring and supervision of information shared through social networks some time ago, where five criminal proceedings were initiated for allegedly spreading false information and panic.

The Steering Committee of BH Journalists finds it unacceptable that, in the cover of combating fake news and spreading panic among the population, attempts are being made to stifle professional journalism, which includes critical appraisal of decisions made by entity and cantonal governments, as well as competent crisis staffs. Regardless of the extraordinary circumstances, it is against all democratic values ​​to create institutional censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression and information, and to give broad powers to individuals engaged in crisis staffs or police and security agencies to interpret and regulate journalistic rights and media freedoms according to their standards. In this context, the BH Journalists will invite international organizations and European institutions for the protection of freedom of expression and opinion to respond to the censorship of information regarding Covid-19 and exercising institutional repression of freedom of expression in BiH.

Also, the BH Journalists Steering Committee once again draws attention to the limited and difficult access to information held by the Government and Crisis Staff of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as by the Crisis Staff and the Government of Sarajevo Canton, which continue to censor information and leave most journalists without two-way communication and comprehensive answers to questions on the coronavirus epidemic and its effects on citizens, the economy and social life.

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