Thousands demonstrate during rival protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
On 14th May, over 10,000 Bosnian Serbs protested in Banja Luka during rival pro- and anti-government rallies. After authorities declared a state of emergency because of the scale of the simultaneous protests, both gatherings went ahead peacefully under heavy police presence. On the 7th of July, several cities commemorated a day in 1992 when Serbian authorities ordered the non-Serb population to mark their housings with white stripes to distinguish them from Serbian households. More than 5000 participated in the three-day 100km Peace March towards Potočari. Protests on a variety of other issues took place in Bosnia over the past three months. Protests sought to highlight derogatory references to the Bosnian language in Srebrenica’s schools; calls by students for more ethnically mixed education in Jajce; and demands for an improvement in workers’ rights in Tuzla canton. Different sections of Bosnian and Herzegovinian society have actively exercised their right to freedom of assembly: minority communities, animal rights activists and the elderly have all mobilised in Sarajevo. The capital also witnessed protests by war veterans over their right to state pensions and healthcare, animal activists opposing the fur trade and LGBTI activists and politicians marching in solidarity for the International Day Against Homophobia.
Freedom of Expression
In the past two months, journalists and critics of the government have continued to experience interference, harassment and physical attacks. A public furore around media outlets covering protests raised questions about the state’s protection of reporters. During the recent protests in Banja Luka, one journalist was physically attacked by an unknown assailant, while two other journalists were verbally assaulted and another reporter received death threats on social media. Hate speech on social media is a recurrent problem. Media practitioners and citizens alike self-censor due to commercial and political interests, fear of being targeted or faced with reprisals. Recently, a radical religious web-portal, orchestrated a smear campaign against columnist and academic, Amer Tikvesa calling him a traitor and foreign mercenary for his views on atheism. The news portal in question, Saff.ba has a history of publishing the personal details of journalists, to intimidate them into self-censorship. The nature of such abuses against journalists continues to ask questions of the authorities' ability to protect freedom of expression.
At the same time, the judiciary have taken a proactive stance in trying to calm ethnic tensions brought about by hate speech. On the 7th of June, the trial of Milan Mandic was closed to the public because of a fear that its public coverage might stir up hate speech. Mandic is accused of inciting ethnic, racial and religious hatred in comments made in 2014 denying the massacres of Srebrenica. Authorities also shut down the web portal 'News of the Ummah', which was accused of spreading ISIS propaganda.
Freedom of Association
Amendments to the Law on Associations and Foundations were proposed by the Council of Ministers in early July. Proposals include the introduction of faster registration procedures for CSOs through e-registration. Although the specifics of the reforms were not communicated, the government stated that the proposed changes are also aimed at improving the 'transparency of operations of associations and foundations'.