The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, and the Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Bruce G. Berton, expressed their concerns regarding new amendments to the Law on Public Order and Peace in Republika Srpska, one of the Bosnia and Herzegovina entity.
Draft of amendments to the Law on Public Order and Peace adopted by the RS Government on 28 March, which would introduce the offence of unauthorized photographing or recording that impedes officials while carrying out their duties, envisaging fines of up to 1,500 BAM (about 767 euros) or imprisonment up to 60 days, may adversely affect freedom of expression and assembly, they warned. The RS National Assembly will be voting on the amendments on 16 April.
“Such provisions, if adopted, could severely endanger an already challenging environment for media professionals. They run against international media freedom standards. Journalists must work in a safe working and legal environment, in order to report on issues of public interest, including street demonstrations, protests and the work of law enforcement authorities. I call on the RS National Assembly to refrain from adopting these amendments, and instead to engage in constructive discussions with the media community and other relevant stakeholders in finding a proper solution”, Désir said.
Ambassador Berton said that, given the limiting nature and severity of proposed sanctions in the draft amendment to the Law, a more extensive consultation process with relevant stakeholders, including the public, is necessary.
“Journalists must be able to cover events of public interest without fear. In addition, under international human rights standards, every person should enjoy the right to attend, observe and record a public peaceful assembly, which includes the right to record actions of law enforcement officers. The OSCE Mission to BiH stands ready to provide support to the relevant authorities on this matter”, Berton emphasized.
The Representative offered his Office’s legal assistance on this issue, stressing that he will be following the process closely.
According to the Association of BH journalists, the changes would introduce “repressive measures” to journalists.
“The changes also violate the rules of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other European institutions regarding the permitted recording and photographing of events of public importance without seeking prior approval from police or any other public institution”, the Association said.
The Association called on MPs in Republika Srpska National Assembly to vote against the amendments.
“Throughout the past several months we have witnessed illicit use of force against journalists, activists and citizens of Banja Luka by the RS police – the adoption of the mentioned law changes would open legal space for even stronger repression and the complete derogation of human rights and freedoms in this entity”, the Association warned.
The amendment stipulate that “who hinders or prevents the activities of state officials, companies or other legal entities exercising public authority or their officials to perform their functions, by unauthorized photographing or recording of interference by officers while performing their duties or failing to act on the spot according to the lawful request or order of an official, shall be punished by a fine of 500 to 1,500 KM or a prison sentence of up to 60 days”.
RS Ministry of Interior insists that this does not mean that the photographing and recording of police officers will be considered as offence. It was stressed that the proposed article does not apply to journalists and media representatives who, in accordance with the rules of the profession and without the interference of officials in their regular work activities, perform photographing or recording.
However, there is no precise definition of what is “an interference” and “regular work activities”. If this amendment passes the parliamentary procedure, there is a danger that every police officer will give his own interpretation and this would be a disaster for the media freedom in RS./IBNA