Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ambassador Johann Sattler, sent a letter to the leaders of Republika Srpska in which he expresses strong concern about the draft amendments to the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska, which introduces a new chapter on crimes against honor and reputation.
– If the Criminal Code would be amended, the consequences will be long-term and harmful, from limiting access to information to creating a climate of fear and repression – Sattler wrote in the letter.
He points out that it would regrettably represent a major step backwards in protection of fundamental freedoms, and thus on the European path.
– The European Union’s concerns have already been clearly conveyed both to the relevant authorities of Republika Srpska as well as publically, but are worth recalling in short. Freedom of expression and of the media, and the protection of journalists, are cornerstones of modern democracies. They are essential values for countries aspiring to join the European Union – Ambassador Sattler said.
The letter emphasizes that the criminalization of defamation would only worsen the already bad situation regarding media freedom.
– When Bosnia and Herzegovina received candidate status, it was done with a clear and expressed expectation that a number of reform areas would be addressed. One of these was strengthening freedom of expression and freedom of media. Defamation was decriminalised in 2002 across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, pressure against media has remained. At my most recent meetings with Republika Srpska authorities in Banja Luka in early March, I raised concerns over malpractice of politicians and public officials in BiH, using civil lawsuits to intimidate journalists and to force them into self-censorship – Ambassador Sattler said.
The EU expresses its readiness to assist institutions in their legitimate efforts to combat disinformation and hate speech in accordance with European and international standards, but the criminalization of defamation, as he points out, is not an appropriate response.
– Therefore, the EU calls on the leadership of Republika Srpska to focus further actions on ensuring the full protection of freedom of expression and the media, and not on amending the Criminal Code in this form – says Sattler.