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news 28 Apr 17

Defamation Proposal Alarms Kosovo Rights Groups

A draft law amending the criminal code, adding articles on defamation of the President, government and state symbols, has alarmed civil society groups, journalists, legal experts and others.

Die Morina
BIRN
Pristina
Ministry of Justice, Kosovo | Photo: BIRN

NGOs in Kosovo, including the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, on Thursday condemned a proposed draft law, amending criminal code articles 134/C and 134/D, that would jail people for insulting the flag and national anthem or defaming top politicians.

Article 134/C foresees that “anyone who publically ... expresses contempt for the Republic of Kosovo or for its constitutional order, insults the colours, flag, seal or the anthem of the Republic of Kosovo, is punishable by up to three years of prison or a fine.”

Article 134/D foresees that whoever defames a constitutional body, including the President, parliament, government and the Constitutional Court, can be punished with three months to five years of imprisonment.

The NGOs said the proposed changes violate the fundamental principles of a democratic country where human rights are respected.

“The Ministry of Justice's aim to criminalize freedom of speech is a step towards authoritarianism in Kosovo and is in complete opposition to the path of European reforms for which the Republic of Kosovo should be committed,” a joint statement of NGOs reads.

“The proposed changes constitute a step towards controlling free speech to criticize the high institutions of the Republic of Kosovo through the criminal procedure, a standard that would stifle public freedom of speech,” the statement adds.

They say the changes were also drafted in closed process and in an irresponsible way.

Journalists and civil society groups have urged the ministry to withdraw the draft and apologise for this “authoritarian act that has seriously affected the credibility of the institutions ... in Kosovo”.

Journalist and editor Enver Robelli said: “The objective of such terrible copying of such articles is a fight against every dissenting thought in Kosovo.”

Last yea, he recalled this legal provision was used in Germany against the satirist Jan Boehmermann who was accused of slandering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The charges were later dropped. Germany seeks to remove the article by 2018, said Robelli.

The EU Office in Kosovo has also expressed concern. “This goes against the international trend to repeal criminal defamation laws. A number of EU members or potential members, including Kosovo, have done away with criminal defamation and insult, and several others have taken important steps in that direction,” a statement by the EU office on Thursday said.

The statement recalled that the European Commission Report in 2013 noted previous decriminalisation of libel and defamation in Kosovo as progress, calling on the authorities “to continue to adhere to the existing principles of guaranteeing the freedom of expression enshrined in Kosovo's Constitution.”

Kosovo officially decriminalized defamation and insult in 2012, when the articles on this were removed from the criminal code. Defamation is considered a civil issue, and is now regulated by the Civil Law on Defamation and Insult.

 

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