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news 28 Jan 15

Bosnia Serb Govt 'Trying to Censor Social Networks'

Experts, journalists associations and opposition parties have slated plans by Bosnia's Republika Srpska entity to extend law and order legislation to include the Internet.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN
Sarajevo

 

The government of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, has come under fire for trying to censor the Internet after proposing that the entity parliament discuss changes to the Law on Public Peace and Order in Republika Srpska.

The draft law, up for discussion in the entity Assembly next week, expands the definition of the public space to the Internet and envisages penalties for those who break law and order on it.

In a press release on January 27, the government said it was possible to violate public peace and law and order by either instigating fights on the net, or by making threats, and the law needed to regulate this situation.

The announcement drew a hostile reaction from experts, media professionals and opposition parties alike who accused the government of planning to censor the net.

“Expanding the definition of a 'public place' from the real to the virtual world represents the worst form of legal violence over freedom of expression and imposes censorship over the Internet, which directly violates the European Convention of Human Rights, and international agreements on civic and political freedom,” the Association of Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina said on Tuesday.

Political analyst, psychologist and avid Twitter user Srdjan Puhalo said the government was trying to establish control over social networks.

“They don't understand the concept of social networks. It is not a pub where they can go in, arrest and force everyone out,” he told Balkan Insight.

Puhalo said that what was also worrying was that the legislation proposes increased penalties for those breaking public peace and order, including prison terms.

The authorities were not worried by protests on the Internet itself but "are more afraid of real demonstrations and protests, and that's why the fines are being increased,” he said.

A deputy in the entity Assembly from the opposition Party of Democratic Progress, Branislav Borenovic, on Tuesday said the law was “unimplementable” from the perspective of European legislation.

He said he expected the draft to be rejected by the Assembly's Commission for European integration and regional cooperation, in which case it will not come up for discussion at the Assembly itself.

It was the second time in less than a month that the Bosnian Serb authorities have come under fire over freedom of speech in the entity.

At the end of last year, entity and Sarajevo cantonal police jointly raided the offices of the Sarajevo-based Klix.ba web news portal, searching for original audio recordings of a meeting at which the Republika Srpksa premier, Zeljka Cvijanovic, allegedly discussed bribing two opposition deputies in the assembly into joining the ruling coalition.

The raid was condemned by many local and international experts as well as by journalists' associations from Republika Srpska.

 

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