BH Journalists: Returning defamation into criminal laws is not a European standard of freedom of expression

Sarajevo/Banja Luka, 01.11.2022. – The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association expresses its concern over the request of the president of SNSD party and member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, to re-introduce defamation and insult into the criminal legislation of the Republic of Srpska, which is contrary to European standards for the protection of freedom of expression and information.

Yesterday, Dodik wrote on Twitter that he asked the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Srpska to prepare a new set of laws in the area of preventing the spread of fake news and hate speech, as well as the introduction of defamation and insult in the Criminal Code of the RS as a criminal offense.

The Steering Committee of the BH Journalists Association believes that such a rigid intervention into media legislation, even at the level of the initiative of the current member of the Presidency of BiH, represents an inadmissible limitation of media freedom and freedom of expression, and hints at the return of Bosnia and Herzegovina two decades ago to the period when journalists could end up in prison for their writings and their work in the public interest.

The Steering Committee of BH Journalists emphasizes that Milorad Dodik is not the only politician who advocates the criminalization of defamation and insult. In recent months, we have witnessed similar initiatives by leading politicians in both BH entities and suggestions for the criminalization of defamation. In the case of BiH and the undisguised pressures and interference of politicians in the work of the judiciary, such initiatives are unacceptable and open space for political abuse of the legislative-legal system and judicial institutions.

The very possibility of a journalist going to prison is terrifying! Although defamation is still a criminal offense in some European countries, the courts almost never apply the option of imprisonment for this offense. On the other hand, the examples from Turkey, where journalists were sentenced to long-term prison for defamation, are not at all encouraging in this respect. It is not difficult to assume that in BiH there are many who wish for the return of a type of verbal delict and prison sentences for media professionals and other citizens who publicly express critical views and question the actions of local authorities.

BH Journalists remind that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the first country in the region to decriminalize defamation and was the leader of positive trends in media legislation. Bringing defamation and insult back into the realm of criminal law would needlessly take us ten steps back and send a very bad message to our European partners at a time when we expect candidate status for the European Union.

We also remind that the European Commission requested from Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to guarantee freedom of expression and the media, as well as the protection of journalists, as one of the eight fundamental conditions for obtaining candidate status. Therefore, these kind of attempts to stifle the freedom of the media and put journalists and the media under pressure, especially those who critically report on the moves of the authorities and uncover corruption affairs in which certain politicians are involved, must not be allowed.

Steering Committee of BH Journalists Association

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