A win for environmental rights activists; threats against journalists
According to the USAID CSO Sustainability Index 2021 for BiH, the sustainability of CSOs remained largely unchanged in 2021. The only dimension recording a change in score during the year was sectoral infrastructure, which improved as smaller organisations had more opportunities for capacity building. The report also notes that CSOs in BiH “continue to be fragmented, institutionally weak, financially unsustainable, and highly dependent on the political and financial support of the international community”. BiH’s complicated state structure presents administrative obstacles to CSOs.
More than 4,000 people walked the 100-kilometre three-day Peace March to Srebrenica to mark the 27th anniversary of the 1995 genocide of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces. The annual Srebrenica Peace March set off from the village of Nezuk, following in reverse the 100-kilometre route taken by Bosniaks who fled on foot from the Bosnian Serb forces who overran Srebrenica in July 1995. Mourners gathered at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre to commemorate the anniversary and attend the burial of 50 more victims of the mass killings of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys. International officials condemned the ongoing genocide denial and glorification of war criminals.
For 25 years, the Movement of Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves have been organising protests on the 11th of each month, demanding truth and justice. At their first gathering after the 27th anniversary of the 1995 genocide of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces on 11 July 2022, mothers of Srebrenica once again sent a message that they will not give up on the search for their family members. So far, the remains of 6,721 people have been buried at Srebrenica’s Potocari Centre, and the remains of around 1,200 more victims have yet to be found.
Protests were staged several times in front of the building of the Office of the High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) in Sarajevo following the announcement of the decision to amend the Electoral Law of BiH and the Constitution of the Federation of BiH. According to unofficial information that appeared in the media, these changes would refer to the redistribution of mandates from the cantonal assemblies to the federal House of Peoples. More than seven thousand people gathered at the protest, which was supported by several political parties. According to the Ministry of Interior of Sarajevo Canton, the protest passed without incident.
On 26th August 2022, residents of Megdan, Potkraj, Tušnica, Džebe and Krivića Gaj came out for the sixth time in the last three years to protest against the exploitation of water as a natural resource. The peaceful protests took place in the village of Megdan, where citizens tried to prevent the passage of contractors, allegedly because of illegal concessions. Police officers tried to violently remove protesters from the scene and arrest residents, leaving some protesters injured. The Center for Civic Cooperation publicly condemned the aggressive behaviour of the police.
In a positive development following decade-long protests and struggles between environmental activists and construction companies, an amendment to the Federation BiH’s Law on Electricity which bans the building of small hydropower plants up to 10 MWh due to the negative impact on the environment, was confirmed by the upper house of the Federation entity parliament on 5th July 2022. In Bosnia’s other entity, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, small hydropower plants are not banned but environmental activists are still protesting and campaigning against them, arguing that the small hydropower plants damage rivers and biodiversity and cause problems for local residents.
The eTraffika portal has published worrying messages which they have been receiving from Sinisha Golub for months through Facebook, and after he requested the removal of a text from the portal, published four years ago. This comes after the journalists wrote about Golub, stating that he operated on pets illegally in a home clinic. Members of the Governing Board of BH Journalists have reacted to these developments, stressing that due to the threats and endangering the safety of journalists, “in any orderly, civilised and legal state, Siniša Golub would already be behind bars.” The eTrafika portal has continuously faced threats from Golub for three consecutive months, without any concrete measures being taken by the authorities.
On 28th July 2022, the Chairman of the City Council of Zenica demanded that journalists leave the Council session after only five minutes of being there. In response, a letter of protest from the BH Journalists’ Club was addressed to the Council raising concerns about the requirement for journalists to register to attend the Council sessions. It argues that this is limiting their work, especially since the Council sessions are of interest to the citizens of Zenica and the general public, and thus free reporting should not be restricted.
The Governing Board of the BH Journalists’ Association and the Helpline for Journalists have publicly expressed their support to journalists of the Prometej portal and its editor Franja Šarčević, and condemned the threats and verbal violence that they have been exposed to through the media and social networks. Šarčević and the Prometej portal found themselves under attack from the political magazine Stav from Sarajevo and faced harassment on social networks after they wrote a critical article about current amendments to the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the recent protests in front of the OHR building, as well as the decision of the High Representative for BiH, Christian Schmidt, to impose changes to the Election Law.
BIRN journalists Nermina Kuloglija and Hamdi Fırat Buyuk received threats via phone calls, text messages and on social media from the Turkish far-right Grey Wolves organisation’s Bosnian branch. The threats were sent from BIH and from Turkey on 28th June 2022 and have continued since then, after BIRN published an investigation into the Grey Wolves organisation’s branch and its activities in Bosnia. Kuloglija and Buyuk continued to receive messages on their phones with intimidating content after the publication of the article. The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) on its Mapping Media Freedom Platform reported on the incidents of harassment, psychological abuse, intimidation and threats against the two BIRN journalists.