Attacks on journalists take centre stage as media meets in Sarajevo
Thank you to all the journalists, experts and the rapporteurs for your insights and stories. Thank you also to the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina @OSCEBiH for co-organizing this successful #SEEMC19 in #Sarajevo! pic.twitter.com/NAYeeOI7CY— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) June 19, 2019
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, closing spaces for media freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a persistent concern for civil society. At a recent conference organised in Sarajevo by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), journalists from across the Western Balkans met to discuss the state of media freedoms. Held on June 19th 2019, the meeting convened 200 media workers from across the region for a two-day event. During the discussion, Stefica Galic, an editor of the Bosnian independent portal tacno.net revealed that she had been physically attacked several times, but had lost all the legal cases she filed against her attackers. As a journalist, Galic has received international acclaim for her work raising awareness of crimes committed by the Bosnian-Croatian HVO army, army, the Hrvatsko Vijeµe Obrane (HVO) and the Croatian Defence Council, during the 1990s Yugoslav wars. In 2012, she was attacked and beaten by a war veteran while walking in the Ljubuski as a result of her work as a journalist. Speaking at the conference, Galic said:
“Regardless of how much I fight, I am losing battles...I’ll continue to work, I am not scared of anyone.”
The comments come at a time when concerns over media freedoms in the Western Balkans are at an all-time high. In fact, the conference concluded that a third of all violations of media freedoms in Europe occurred in Southeastern Europe. Most worryingly of all, documentary evidence shows that in nearly 50% of these cases, the state was the source of the violation. Following the event, the OSCE commented on the situation for media workers and highlighted the severity of the situation. In a statement, they said:
"The testimonies we heard from journalists of the region, as well as from various media and legal experts, show that the media freedom situation in the region is serious. The development of a pluralistic and independent media is hindered by the concentration of media ownership, unfair competition rules for access to financing and commercial advertisement, and strong political interference in the editorial policies of many media. This is stifling the development of new, independent and critical media. At the same time, many journalists are still harassed, threatened or attacked because of their reporting.”
#Bosnia: #Impunity for violence against journalists is driving fear and self-censorship in #Bosnia. As a #journalist you ask yourself, "if I'm not protected, is it worth risking your life to report on violations?" @OSCE_RFoM #SEEMC19 #NoImpunity #Journalismisnotacrime— ARTICLE 19 ECA (@article19europe) June 18, 2019
In this regional context, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows no sign of improving. In another example, on 5th June 2019 another journalist was attacked in Mostar. Meliha Smaljkic a reporter working for Dnevni Avaz, was accosted while conducting an investigation into the detonation of an explosive device at a private property. Smaljkic had arrived on the scene to take photographs, when the owners of the property attacked her. After confronting the journalist, the attackers allegedly assaulted Smaljkic by twisting her arm and forcing the deletion of the photos after confiscating her phone. The perpetrators also threatened two other photo reporters from the news portals Klix and Bljesak and warned them not to take photographs.
The incident took place in a public space and in front of a police officer, who failed to protect the journalists. Instead, the police officer in question later took to social media to mock the journalists. While disciplinary action was later taken against the police officer, the incident has become emblematic of a situation where brazen attacks on journalists largely go unquestioned and unpunished.
#SafeJournalists— Safe Journalists (@WBjournalists) June 20, 2019
〽️ "We believe that the Prosecutor's Office of BiH is familiar with the media freedom and the rights of journalists in the way they are governed by domestic and international laws.."https://t.co/X4Tgm28o5b pic.twitter.com/w7fAzhPTNI
In a controversial turn of events, on 20th June 2019, The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina released a statement announcing the intention to conduct an investigation into people questioning the work of the judiciary. While the office claims this course of action is essential to protect the judiciary from interference and destabilisation, the move has been met with intense criticism by civil society. Many have viewed this course of action as an attempt to threaten critics of the judiciary with prosecution, especially if they expose irregularities in the judicial process. In fact, Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina highlighted that interference is usually considered as a criminal offence, which relates to the use of physical threats, intimidation and other illegal actions aimed at obstructing a criminal proceeding. This can also include preventing judges, prosecutors and authorised officials from performing their duties. Expanding this definition to include legitimate criticism of legal process is therefore, an unnecessary and unwarranted curtailment freedom of expression.
'Justice for David' group banned from gathering in Banja Luka church https://t.co/iqpa1HinkP #Bosnia, #JusticeForDavid— N1english (@N1info) June 7, 2019
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, protests over the suspicious death of a young man in Banja Luka have driven sustained protests by locals. David Dragičević went missing in Banja Luka in March 2018 and his body was later found in a river several days later. Suspicions have been high over the circumstances surrounding his death, sparking protests by people who fear the state was involved in a cover-up. From the 8th June 2019, "Justice for David" protests have been banned from their usual rallying spot near a church. The decision came after the request from the religious institution, which allegedly sent a letter to the police saying that the gathering of citizens in the church’s yard ‘disturbs the activities of the priests’. The police have already banned the group from protesting on the main square and tightened control of their protest activities.
Despite the warnings from the police, on 18th June 2019 protesters attempted to hold a rally. This attempt to mobilise was quickly dispersed by security forces in Banja Luka. While the dispersal took place without violence, Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina later filed criminal charges against several police officers suspected to have violated the right to peaceful assembly.
Civic Space Developments
CountryBosnia & Herzegovina