A few days ago, the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik announced the adoption of a new law on the activities of non-governmental organisations and similar associations in Republika Srpska. This announcement came shortly after the Government of the RS adopted the Draft Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska, which, among other things, introduces a provision for insult and slander.
Explaining the reasons for this move, Dodik said:
- This implies that you report every type of transaction, it is fair and transparent, why should that be a problem? - will be asked by a man whose money origin and flows cannot/does not want to be established even by the state prosecutor's office.
On the other hand, under the guise of persecuting "foreign agents", he wants to control the work of non-governmental organisations because, apart from the media, some of them are the last atom of resistance in Republika Srpska.
In combination with the law that reinstates defamation as a criminal offence, which we wrote about earlier, Milorad Dodik and the authorities in Republika Srpska will have complete control over freedom of speech.
WHOSE LAWS WILL DODIK REWRITE
Although he announced that the law would be copied from the law of the United States of America, and asked "what will the Americans say about that", these moves are much more reminiscent of the dictatorship introduced by his political teachers a long time ago.
At the end of February, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, signed amendments to the law, which defines all foreign words as unacceptable, except for those that are common and have no analogue in the Russian language:
- When speaking the Russian language as the state language of the Russian Federation, it is not allowed to use words and expressions that do not correspond to the norms of the modern Russian language, except for foreign words that do not have corresponding equivalents in widespread use in the Russian language - the text states.
The law also lists areas where the Russian language can be used as a state language - education, state systems, and service information. A list of acceptable foreign words will be published later.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the media in Russia do not use the words "war" and "invasion" but "military operation". Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications control agency, at the very beginning of the attack on Ukraine, in February of last year, warned the media that during reporting they are obliged to use information and data obtained "exclusively from Russian official sources". In the event that the media do not comply with the Agency's requirements, as stated, access to resources will be limited, and they are threatened with a fine of up to five million rubles. In May of last year, the Russian parliament adopted a law that allows prosecutors to close the offices of foreign media if it is a question of "enemy" countries.
In May 2021, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukašenko, signed a law restricting the work of the media and allowing them to be shut down without a court decision. According to the law, the media may not report on unauthorised mass gatherings, and the Ministry of Information can order the shutdown of the media. The publication of the results of public opinion polls is also prohibited unless approved by the Belarusian government. Commenting on the law, the president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Andrej Bastunets, said at the time that it is the most repressive media law in Europe, which turns the work of journalists into a "minefield". The media that reported on the protests when Lukašenko won the sixth mandate, when tens of thousands of people were arrested, were called extremists. Journalists were arrested even though they were doing their job, with clear signs that they were on duty.
In an interview with Al Jazeera Balkans from 2020, Belarusian journalist Marina Zolotova warned that journalists in this country are arrested and abused for doing their job.
Twelve TUT.BY journalists were imprisoned a total of 19 times from May to September 2020. Most of them were released after 3-4 hours in the police station, but one freelance correspondent was detained for 11 days. He was accused of participating in the protests even though he was there to cover the event in the media:
- I said it earlier, and I'll say it again - they were arrested because they were doing their job, because they were reporting on the protest! Our journalists had badges, blue vests, they were filming and taking photos all the time or sending us messages, but the court ruled that they were participants in the protest! I was in court and it was a horrible scene. The "witnesses" wore masks, their names were changed, they testified via video link, they had no concrete evidence and could not offer locations and slogans of the protest. Furthermore, the hearing was interrupted because the "witness" indicated the wrong location of action at the beginning of the testimony. Of course, I am sure that it is a matter of targeted persecution of journalists. More than 200 independent media journalists have been detained since the beginning of the election campaign. The accreditations of many journalists working for foreign media have been withdrawn. Access to many Internet portals in Belarus are blocked (nn.by, svaboda.org. naviny.by, belsat.eu and others) – Zolotova said in an interview with Al Jazeera Balkans.
The idea that journalists can be arrested is the most difficult for her:
- It's very stressful. You have the feeling that you cannot protect them because there is no law. There is also the feeling that access to the portal can be blocked at any moment, as well as the feeling of reduced income, and you have to preserve the viability of the project.
REPUBLIKA SRPSKA AS GEORGIA
In the creation of the law on foreign agents, Milorad Dodik can also use the fresh Georgian experience. The draft law that was to be introduced in Georgia provided that organisations that receive money from abroad (more than 20 per cent of the funds) will be registered as foreign agents or will be fined. After the demonstrations, the ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew the bill because it did not receive the support of the deputies.
The Georgian government was criticised for its closeness to Moscow, and European officials condemned the draft law.
Milorad Dodik also refers to the sources of financing organisations when he talks about the intention to introduce a similar law in Republika Srpska:
- The United States of America, in its law, calls those organisations, or those financed by foreigners, foreign agents on the territory of the USA. We will take over all that terminology - he announced.
Transparency International also warned about the similarity with the Georgian law:
- Dodik's announcement reminds, like the earlier draft of the law, of a similar law in Russia, which was tried to be passed in Georgia as well, because of which the citizens of Georgia protested - Ivana Korajlić, executive director of TI BiH, said in a statement to Radio Free Europe.
For Korajlić, the adoption of a similar law in the RS would mean "establishing supervision and complete control over the work of civil society organisations."
US EMBASSY: REPRESSIVE AND UNDEMOCRATIC LAWS
The US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina reacted to the announcements of new legal solutions in the RS:
- In recent days, the authorities in Republika Srpska announced plans to adopt two repressive, undemocratic laws that, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska. These laws would only benefit the ruling coalition in its efforts to consolidate its power, and would be to the detriment of everyone else - they say.
While supporting the rights of people around the world, the US Embassy emphasises that the proposed laws would stigmatise and silence independent voices in the RS:
- The proposed laws would make it difficult for citizens to hold the RS government accountable and enable corruption to flourish unhindered. The proposed laws' attacks on fundamental freedoms would discourage legitimate companies from investing in Republika Srpska.
In the world, Iran is the leader in terms of the number of imprisoned journalists in 2022, and China and Myanmar are also at the top of the list. Last year, Reporters Without Borders documented 533 detained journalists and 57 killed.