Protesting journalists stuck pieces of adhesive tape over their mouths and broke pencils ahead of the start of a parliamentary debate on draft amendments to the entity’s Criminal Code, introducing high penalties for defamation.
Bosnian Serb journalists have staged a spontaneous demonstration outside the parliament of Republika Srpska in Banja Luka against amendments being debated by lawmakers that would criminalize defamation in the media of the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Media watchdogs and international organizations have appealed to the Bosnian Serb authorities to drop the amendments, warning that they threaten media freedom and freedom of expression.
Protesting journalists on March 14 stuck pieces of adhesive tape over their mouths and broke pencils ahead of the start of a parliamentary debate on draft amendments to the entity’s Criminal Code, introducing high penalties for defamation.
"We're here to send a clear message. Writing news will be mission impossible, investigative journalism will no longer exist, and every citizen will feel it on their own skin," said Sinisa Vukelic, the president of the Banja Luka Journalists' Club.
Vukelic added that the journalists present outside the parliament building were appealing to the lawmakers' conscience, urging them to vote against criminalizing defamation.
"Vote according to your conscience and not according to party affiliation," Vukelic said. "We will make public the names of all deputies who raise their hands to support the amendments."
A similar protest was announced at noon in Banja Luka by an association of labor unions.
"Voting for amendments to the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska in this form would mean putting chains on our feet and glue on our mouths, because we will not be able to express our dissatisfaction in any way," said the association when announcing the protest.
The amendments would introduce criminal charges for offenses against someone’s honor and reputation, for insult, for defamation, as well as for “disclosure of personal and family circumstances” that would bring fines ranging from 2,500 euros ($2,680) to 25,000 euros ($26,800) in one of Europe's poorest countries. Incarceration is not mentioned in the amendments.
The offense "against someone’s honor and reputation” was removed from Republika Srpska's Criminal Code in 2002 at the order of the then-high representative of the international community, Paddy Ashdown.
The Council of Europe, the OSCE's mission to Bosnia, and an EU delegation all called for the amendments to be dropped, pointing out that they were against international recommendations.
The U.S. Embassy in Bosnia said repressive authorities use such laws to the detriment of journalists.