Insult, Defamation to Enter Criminal Code of Bosnian Serb Autonomous Region

Published: 24 March 2023

Defamation RS BiHNumerous media, journalist associations and NGOs in Bosnia and Herzeegovina protested against the Republika Srpska's attempt to introduce defamation and insult into Criminal Code. They sent the same message: "Withdraw the law criminalizing defamation and insult!" (Photo: BH novinari, 6yka,, TI BiH...)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (RS), one of two Bosnia and Herzegovina’s semi-autonomous regions, passed Thursday a draft law that introduces defamation and insult into the RS Criminal Code.

The new legislation, which could enter into force after a 60-day public discussion, calls for harsh penalties for some crimes, including up to 10 years in prison for "publishing private photos that can cause harm" or fines of up to 120,000 convertible marks (US$67,000) for disclosing damaging personal and family circumstances -- offenses that press freedom experts say are worryingly broad.

RS Justice Minister, Miloš Bukejlović, tried to justify the legislation, saying that its goal is to “protect dignity, physical and spiritual integrity, privacy, personal and family life, as guaranteed by the RS Constitution.”

“We don’t intend to introduce censorship, prohibit freedom of expression or protect the public office holders [politicians]. This law promotes the truth, and requires everyone to stand behind their words,” Bukejlović said in a statement following the Assembly’s vote.

Since Minister Bukejlović announced the amendments to the RS Criminal Code early this month, numerous journalists and activists have called for its withdrawal, warning that the new legislation would actually prevent uncovering corruption and various malversations involving top politicians.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Association of Journalists – BH novinari – warned that the new legislation in the RS “represents nothing more than an institutional attempt to intimidate journalists and the media – especially those who write critically about the government’s activities.”

Despite his assurances that the RS is a “democratic society that protects the freedom of media,” journalist associations, numerous non-governmental organizations, as well as international representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina protested against the new legislation and called for its annulment.

The Ambassadors of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC SBA) – an international body that oversees the implementation of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the country’s 1992-1995 war – expressed deep concern over the latest RS move, which “aims to shrink the civic space and reduce public debate.”

“The re-criminalization of defamation and insult would give Republika Srpska authorities overly broad powers to criminalize or censor the freedom of expression of media, civil society, and citizens living in the Republika Srpska,” the PIC SBA said in a statement.

It called on the RS authorities to halt any activities that stifle independent voices in the media and civil society and to withdraw the law.

Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH) also called on the RS authorities not to pass the new legislation.

“The adoption of the draft law on the RS Criminal Code only confirms the readiness of the RS authorities to further the process of unscrupulous and systematic suppression of rights and freedoms,” TI BiH said in a statement.

It warned that including freedom of speech into the Criminal Code may only generate numerous problems for the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even suppress citizens’ freedom to openly discuss or publish any information.

The “BH novinari” (BH Journalists) Association saw the RS MPs’ decision as a “failure of democracy, free society, and free press.”

“We have only one request: withdraw the draft law from further procedure! We will never accept the media darkness and trade with our freedom of expression,” said the Association.

Protesting against the draft law aimed at making insult and defamation criminal offenses, dozens of media throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina have blacked out their web sites, according to the Association.

Despite strong local and international criticism, the RS authorities went even further, as the region’s government on Tuesday sent another draft law to the Parliament – one that concerns the work of “non-profit organizations, their political activities, publication of financial reports or bookkeeping.”


Correction: This article was corrected (2nd graf) to more precisely refer to the crimes that will receive the harshest penalties under the new legislation.