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Bosnian Serbs warned that libel law disregards EU

By The Associated Press

Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije, center, speaks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, left, and Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, July 20, 2023. They talked about the situation in the region and upcoming important meetings between the delegations of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic).

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Top international representatives in Bosnia on Friday warned that a newly-approved law in the Serb-run entity, which makes libel a criminal offense, stands contrary to the Balkan nation's proclaimed European Union path.

“Changes to the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska that recriminalize defamation represent an attack on civil liberties characteristic of authoritarian regimes,” said the Office of High Representative, or OHR.

“These changes are also a step backward on the path towards EU membership, as it is not in line with the 14 key priorities outlined in the European Commission’s opinion," the statement added.

The law was passed in the parliament of Republika Srpska on Thursday, championed by pro-Russian Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, who has faced U.S. and British sanctions for his separatist policies.

It amends the existing criminal law to reintroduce fines of up to 60,000 euros ($64,000) for libel — far beyond what most people in the impoverished Balkan nation can pay.

A previous law did not consider libel a criminal offense.

Republika Srpska is the name for the Serb half of Bosnia while the other half is run by Bosniaks, who are mainly Muslim, and Croats. The two entities were created in a peace deal that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war after more than 100,000 people were killed.

In a separate statement late on Thursday, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the EU Office said they were “dismayed that the Republika Srpska National Assembly today re-criminalized defamation.”

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and a fundamental European value,” the statement said. “This move contravenes the international human rights commitments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is inconsistent with its European path.”

Bosnia is seeking EU entry but the Bosnian Serb separatist drive and inner political bickering have stalled the effort.

Bosnian Serb journalists have held numerous protests against the libel amendment. Dodik and his ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats have sought to tighten their hold on power in the Serb-run mini-state.

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