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Proposed Ban On Filming Police In Republika Srpska Sends Chill Through Bosnia's Media

The Bosnian government hasn't said why it's pushing the legislation, but critics say it was likely prompted by heated demonstrations over the suspicious death of a student, David Dragicevic. (file photo)

In Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb entity, it's perfectly legal to film police officers on the job. For now, at least.

Lawmakers there are set to vote on April 16 on a series of public-order laws that, among other things, would ban people from taking or distributing videos and photos of public servants, including police and security officials, while they are performing their duties.

The government says the legislation is aimed at "bringing back dignity to, and protecting police officers" and not at impeding the country's thriving media sector.

But rights groups and Western diplomats are questioning Bosnia's commitment to democratic norms and bluntly calling it a move by the Bosnian Serb member of the country's tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, to exert further pressure on a profession already under fire.

"The whole package is aimed at introducing new tools and provides more [discretionary] authority for the police to bring in for questioning, sanction, and/or arrest those who are protesting, while at the same time it strips people of the possibility of taking any evidence of potential wrongdoing by the police," Ivana Korajlic, acting executive director of Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina, told RFE/RL.

"It is clear that the aim is to legalize repression mechanisms," she added.

String Of Angry Protests

While the government hasn't said why it's pushing the legislation now, critics say it was likely prompted by a string of angry protests over the suspicious death of a student, David Dragicevic, in Banja Luka in Republika Srpska a year ago.

Dragicevic, a technology student, was found dead in a local creek a week after going missing in March 2018.

Police say Dragicevic had been caught up in a fight at a cafe and that they found alcohol and drugs in his system.

Thousands of protesters in Banja Luka rally to demand "Justice for David" in April 2018.
Thousands of protesters in Banja Luka rally to demand "Justice for David" in April 2018.

The case was called a drowning and originally ruled a suicide. But his family says their son was abducted, tortured, and murdered. They accuse police of involvement.

The death remains disputed and police have banned "Justice For David" demonstrations, which security officials were accused of using excessive force to break up over the past year.

"Throughout the past several months we have witnessed illicit use of force against journalists, activists, and citizens of Banja Luka by the [Republika Srpska] police -- the adoption of the mentioned [legal] changes would open legal space for even stronger repression and the complete derogation of human rights and freedoms in this entity," according to the Journalists Association of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dangerous Profession

Being a journalist in Bosnia has become a more dangerous profession in recent times.

The association says it has recorded 44 physical attacks against journalists over the past six years, along with 48 cases of serious harassment or verbal intimidation and 21 death threats.

In an "already challenging environment for media professionals," if approved the laws will just make things worse, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"Journalists must be able to cover events of public interest without fear," said Bruce Berton, the head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"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," Berton said in a statement on April 5.

Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik is well-known for his hostility toward some members of the media. (file photo)
Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik is well-known for his hostility toward some members of the media. (file photo)

Republika Srpska is not so different from the rest of Bosnia.

Politics since the 1995 agreement has been dominated by nationalist rhetoric instead of moving toward rebuilding a country ravaged by three years of war in the 1990s that left some 100,000 dead following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

While media in the Bosniak-Croat federation that is Bosnia's other constituent part have tried to keep an arm's length from politicians, the connections in Republika Srpska are considered by many analysts to be much tighter.

Dodik is well-known for his hostility toward some media members, refusing questions he suggests aren't in line with his thinking or openly questioning reporters' patriotism.

Dusko Kopic, a doctor of legal sciences from Banja Luka, says the draft law is written so vaguely that it gives a lot of leeway to police and other officials to follow in Dodik's footsteps.

"If the law is not defined precisely, for example in stating what exactly interference is, it can lead to a broad interpretation of that law and abuse of the law itself," he told RFE/RL.

"Simply put, media is a window into the world and every form of attack on the media is a limitation of democracy," he added.