Media Outlet Raided – Severe Breach of Media Freedom
On 28 December, 2014 the Police of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina forcibly entered the premises of Klix-ba, one of the most influential web portals based out of Sarajevo. According to a police spokesperson the raid was said to have been sanctioned by Sarajevo’s Cantonal Court. The Police entered the premises in an attempt to uncover the source of a recording that is said to be that of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic.
The search took place in the early hours of 29 December, and lasted more than seven hours, during which the Police copied sensitive material from the newsroom’s computers. Four Klix-ba workers were questioned and held at their offices. According to the Dario Simic, the Portal Director, and Jasmin Hadziahmetovic, Editor in Chief, the Police seized 19 computer hard drives, several USB memory sticks, CDs, documents, notes and also confiscated their private mobile phones.
The raid followed the interrogation of Simic and Hadziahmetovic by Banja Luka (City in Republika Srpska) police on 4 December 2014. This is despite the fact that the Police of Republika Srpska have no jurisdiction in the Canton of Sarajevo, which belongs to the second entity comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
“From this situation it becomes very clear that the police and government in Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina cooperate when they are protecting the interests of ethno-nationalist political parties. This is censorship of the media and we are afraid that our government is following in the footsteps of Turkey and Russia,” says Ena Bavčić, Programme Officer at Civil Rights Defenders in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At a later Court Hearing soon after the police demanded that Simic and Hadziahmetovic reveal the identity of the person that gave them the recorded conversation. They refused to do so.
The Press Council in Bosnia, a self-regulatory body for print and online media, called the raid a dark day for Bosnian journalism and characterised the Police action as “ an attack on the publics’ right to know and to be informed”. Members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Journalists Association have expressed grave concern that similar cases could become a part of court practice, emphasising the necessity for journalists to be protected against legal actions of this type.
During a protest meeting organised by Bosnia and Herzegovina Journalists Association on January 06, 2015 it was announced that the Municipal Court of Sarajevo deemed the raid illegitimate, ordering the immediate return of confiscated material.
“It is important to mention that Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a Law in 2013 regarding the protection of whistle blowers, in order to have an important institution to combat systemic corruption. Additionally, it should be a priority for the international community to send a clear message that censorship and intimidation by the police against media and free speech is unacceptable,” says Ena Bavčić, Programme Officer at Civil Rights Defenders in Bosnia and Herzegovina.