Bosnia and Herzegovina: New Republika Srpska law on public order restricts social networks

Maida Ćulahović

Narodna skupština Republike Srpske (the National Assembly of Republika Srpska - RS), one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, passed a controversial new Law on Public Peace and Security (5 February 2015). This happened despite numerous concerns from the opposition, human rights activists and watchdogs, media, NGOs and foreign embassies of the devastating effects it might have for freedom of speech on the Internet. The proposed provisions had been denounced for criminalising social media by allowing the authorities to fine or even imprison people who post offensive content on social networks.

In comparison to its previous version, the new Law extends the definition of public space to "any [other] space in which the offence has been committed". The explanation to the Law further clarifies that this broader definition concerns primarily social networks when used to organise "certain attempts to disturb the public peace and order". In the aftermath of this criticism, the lawmakers removed measures introducing prison terms and adopted the amendment stating that those who criticise state institutions on social networks will not be prosecuted.

These statements have been met with skepticism and there are fears the government could, for instance, prevent protesters from using social networks to organise demonstrations, by labelling the events violations of public order. The fears are further fuelled by the recent police raid on the premises of a news portal in search for the source of a recording allegedly featuring the voice of the RS Prime Minister who, according to the posted voice recording, stated that two members of the RS Parliament were paid in order to secure the rule of her party after the elections.

Nevertheless, the adoption of the law was met with heavy criticism, including reactions of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, who warned that this law could be used to limit freedom of expression on social media. Public reactions mainly concern broad or vaguely phrased terms that leave too much room for arbitrary interpretation – such as ambiguous definitions of what constitutes public order offences online, which could potentially lead to criminalisation of social media posts that contain indecent, offensive or disturbing content. In addition, the adopted amendment excluded criticism of institutions but not individuals.

The RS Government officials have stated that this Law does not aim to restrict freedom of expression and will not be used against citizens and journalists who publicly present their views on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. According to them, the law would, for example, apply to a person who had used social networks to plan or organise public order offences committed in a public place.

Maida Ćulahović, Communications Regulatory Agency

Read more:

The Zakon o javnom redu i miru (Law on Public Peace and Security) is available in Bosnian language here.

Internaitonal organsations have criticsed the law:

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Reject Draft Law Criminalizing Online Speech

OSCE Representative warns that legal amendments pose threat to free expression in Bosnia and Herzegovina; offers legal assistance

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –