The head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday again called on the Bosnian Serb authorities to stop adopting laws which restrict freedom of the press and public expression, saying it is contrary to European standards, but the entity prime minister said he would not agree to that.
Earlier this year, the Republika Srpska (RS) parliament passed a law criminalising defamation, while preparations are under way for adopting laws on foreign agents and the media.
The media community in the Serb entity and the entire country considers the legislation a direct attack on its rights and freedoms, as does the European Commission in its 2023 progress report on BiH.
Critical voices and different views are necessary for the vitality of democracy and society as they help to fight corruption and intolerance, said the head of the EU Delegation, Johann Sattler.
The draft law on so-called foreign agents would bring RS close to authoritarian regime standards instead of EU standards, he said, adding that the draft is a step back for fundamental freedoms and for BiH's European path and should therefore be withdrawn.
A law which plans to introduce a register of foreign agents, that is organisations and individuals receiving donations from abroad, is a serious violation of BiH's commitment to respecting human rights in terms of freedom of association and expression, said Brian Aggeler, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission.
We are deeply disappointed that the RS authorities decided to ignore this opinion and the opinions of other international human rights mechanisms, including three special UN rapporteurs, continuing instead with the adoption of this harmful and regressive law, he said.
There is a strategic approach by the RS authorities to suppress freedom of expression and send the message that only the thinking and actions propagated by the ruling coalition can be present in public, said Ivana Korajlic, Transparency International's executive director for BiH.
RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic said criminalising defamation proved fully warranted because it introduced responsibility for public statements.
The RS government will “bring order” to the media scene and we will know who is a journalist and what the media are, which will reduce the current abuse in the public sphere, he said.