Bosnia and Herzegovina

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

No provisions.

Insult and defamation are no longer criminal offences in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Both entities (Republic of Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina ) as well as Brcko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina have adopted civil laws on protection from defamation.

As the international community acted on introduction of media legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was in fact the Office of the High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina that had the biggest role. The Decision on Freedom of Information and Decriminalization of Libel and Defamation passed in 1999, required that both entities, under the guidance of the Office of the High Representative, adopt the necessary legislation to create civil remedies for defamation, libel and slander in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Ultimately, the three defamation laws in Bosnia and Herzegovina were adopted only in the period between 2001 and 2002, because discussions and pressures coming from political elites significantly prolonged the entire process of decriminalisation.

Nevertheless, this analysis indicates several criminal provisions that exhibit differing degrees of connection to defamation and/or insult.

Federal level – Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Provisions in the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina :

Criminal Code Art. 246e(2) (Coercion against a Military Person Discharging Official Duty) states that if anyone by force or threat of immediate use of force, prevents a military person in the execution of official duty, or coerces a military person in the same way to execute an official duty and if a military person is seriously offended during the perpetration of this criminal act, the perpetrator will be punished by imprisonment for a term between three months and three years.

Also, Art. 181 (Violating the Protection Granted to Bearers of Flags of Truce) of the Criminal Code states that if anyone, in violation of the rules of international law in time of war or armed conflict, insults, maltreats or detains the bearer of the flag of truce or his escort, or prevents them from returning, or in any other way violates their privilege of inviolability, s/he shall be punished with a prison term between six months and five years.

Republic of Srpska:

Provisions in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Srpska :

Art. 319(2) (Use of Force Against a Military Officer While Executing His Duty) states that if anyone grossly insults military personnel while using force or threatening to use force to prevent military personnel from performing their official duty, or in the same manner coerces them to perform their official duty, s/he shall be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months to five years.

Art. 385(1) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Srpska (Violent Behaviour) prescribes that whoever harshly insults or otherwise endangers security of others, and by doing so causes serious disturbances and fear among citizens or seriously disturbs public order, shall be punished with a fine (amount is not specified) or a prison sentence not exceeding two years. Regarding the monetary fine in Art. 35 it is stated that fines can be imposed in daily amounts and if that is not possible, they can be imposed in a certain amount. If the above mentioned criminal offence was committed by two or more persons or if a number of people have been seriously insulted, the punishment is a prison sentence between three months and three years (Art. 385(2)).

There is also a criminal act of Preventing an Official Person in Execution of His Official Duty, prescribed in Art. 387 of the Criminal Code, which in paragraph 2 states that whoever by force or threat of immediate use of force prevents an official person from carrying out or compels him to carry out any official duty within the scope of his powers, and by doing so insults or abuses the official person, the punishment is imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. Paragraph 3 of Art. 387 prescribes that if the criminal acts referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the same article are committed against a judge or public prosecutor in discharge of their duties or against official person or a person assisting an official in performing duties of security or apprehending perpetrators or guarding detained persons, the perpetrator shall be punished by imprisonment for a term between six months and five years. Also, a possible defence is provided in paragraph 5 of Art. 387, which states that if the perpetrator of the offenses referred to in Paragraphs 1 through 3 of this article was provoked by unlawful or harsh treatment on the part of the official person, he/she may be released from punishment.

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Provisions in the Criminal Code of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina :

Art. 182 of Criminal Code (Maltreatment in Discharge of Duty) prescribes that if an official person who is performing his official duty insults another shall be punished by a prison term between three months and five years.

Criminal Code Art. 277(1) (Obstructing a Tax Official in Performing Official Action) prescribes that whoever, by force or threat of use of force, prevents or tries to prevent a tax official from performing his official duty, in the same manner coerces or tries to coerce him not to perform an official duty, will be punished with a prison term between three months and three years. Paragraph 2 of the same article states that if in perpetrating the criminal offence referred to in paragraph, the offender insults or abuses the tax official, s/he shall be punished by imprisonment for a term between six months and three years. A possible defence is prescribed in Art. 277(3), which states that if the perpetrator of criminal act in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Art. 277 has been provoked by illegal or brutal treatment on the part of the tax official, s/he may be released from of punishment.

Criminal Code Art. 358(2) (Obstructing an Official Person in Execution of Official Activity) prescribes that if anyone by force or threat of immediate use of force prevents an official person from performing an official act falling within the scope of his authority or, by using the same means, coerces him to perform an official act, and the official person is insulted, s/he shall be punished by imprisonment for a term between six months and three years. Per Art. 358, paragraph 3, if the criminal act from paragraph 2 is committed against an official person engaged in the work related to public security or to the security of the Federation or to the maintenance of public order, apprehension of perpetrators of criminal offences or to the guarding of confined persons, the punishment is imprisonment ranging from three months to five years. A possible defence is prescribed in Art. 358(4), which states that if the perpetrator of the criminal acts referred to in paragraphs 1 through 3 of Art. 385 is provoked by illegal or rude treatment on the part of the official person, s/he may be released from punishment.

Art. 362(1) (Violent Behaviour) states that if anyone by harsh insult or maltreatment of another disturbs the public peace, the punishment is imprisonment for a term between three months and three years. Paragraph 2 of the same article states that if the criminal offence is committed within a group of people or if, a serious humiliation of number of persons is caused, the perpetrator will be punished by a prison term between six months and five years.

Art. 402(2) (Coercion against a Military Person Discharging his Official Duty) states that if a perpetrator by force or threat of immediate use of force, prevents a military person in the execution of his official duty, or coerces such a person in the same way to execute his official duty, and a military person is seriously offended when the criminal act is committed, the perpetrator shall be punished by imprisonment for a term between six months and five years. A possible defence is provided in Art. 402(3), which states that if the perpetrator is provoked by the illegal or rude conduct of the military person, s/he may be punished less severely or released from punishment. However, this defence is only applied to Art. 402(1) so it is difficult to estimate if it applicable to Art. 402(2) as well, but a wider legal interpretation of this article could mean that the defence is also applied to paragraph 2 of Art. 402.

Brcko District:

Provisions in the Criminal Code of Brcko District :

Art. 179 (Abuse in Performance of Duties) prescribes that an official who while performing his/her duties insults another person shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months to five years.

Art. 271(2) states that whoever, by use of force or threat to use force, prevents or tries to prevent a tax official from performing his official duties, or in the same way forces or tries to force an official not to perform official duties and during the perpetration offends or mistreats a tax official, s/he shall be sentenced to prison from six months to three years. A possible defence is provided in Art. 271(3), which states that if the perpetrator of the criminal act referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Art. 271 was provoked by illegal or rude conduct of a tax official, s/he may be released from punishment.

Also, in Art. 352(2) (Obstructing an Official in Execution of an Official Duty) it is stated that a person who by using force, or threat of immediate use of force, prevents an official in executing of an official duty within the scope of his powers, or a person who, in the same way, compels an official to perform an official duty, in the course of the criminal act insults the official, s/he shall be sentenced to six months to three years in prison. Art. 352(3) states that if a person who commits the criminal acts prescribed in paragraphs (1) and (2) of this article against an official in performing duties of public safety, or safety of Brcko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or duties of keeping of public order, apprehension of the perpetrator of a criminal offence or guarding a person, deprived of liberty, will be sentenced with three months to five years in prison. A possible defence is prescribed in paragraph 4 of this article, which states that if the perpetrator was provoked by unlawful or brutal conduct of the official, s/he may be released from punishment; this defence is applicable both to paragraphs 2 and 3.

Art. 356 (Violent Behaviour) states that a person who jeopardises the peace of citizens by rude insult will be punished with a sentence ranging three months to three years in prison. If the criminal act referred to in this article is committed within a group of persons, or if the criminal offence from Paragraph 1 of this Article caused severe humiliation of several persons, the perpetrators will be sentenced to a prison term ranging from six months to five years (Art. 356(2)).

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

There are no provisions related specifically to defamation or insult of public officials.

The following provisions contain elements that exhibit a connection to defamation and/or insult. These provisions are described in greater detail under “Criminal defamation and insult laws”.

Federal level (Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina):

• Coercion against a Military Person Discharging Official Duty (Art. 246e)

Republic of Srpska (Criminal Code):

• Use of Force Against a Military Officer While Executing His Duty (Art. 319(2))
• Preventing an Official Person in Execution of His Official Duty (Art. 387)

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Criminal Code):

• Obstructing a Tax Official in Performing Official Action (Art. 277(1))
• Obstructing an Official Person in Execution of Official Activity (Art. 358(2))
• Coercion against a Military Person Discharging his Official Duty (Art. 402(2))

Brcko District (Criminal Code):

• Preventing a Tax Official From Performing his Official Duties (Art. 271(2))
• Obstructing an Official in Execution of an Official Duty (Art. 352(2))

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

No provisions.

Criminal Blasphemy

No provisions.

Criminal Statistics

N/A

Criminal Law and Media

N/A

Recent Legal Changes

Relevant to mention here is the adoption of the Law on Public Peace and Order in Republika Srpska in 2015. Among other things, this law punishes the “performance or reproduction of musical content or texts, wearing or showing symbols, images, drawing or texts of indecent, offensive or disturbing nature” (Art. 7); as well “gross offending or other reckless behaviour which causes the feeling of physical endangerment of disturbance of citizens” (Art. 8) . The law states that liability under the law covers actions “against the functioning of state organs and other public services” as well as “offences committed in a public place” (Art. 2).

Concern over the law has focused in particular on the potential for “public place” to be interpreted so as to include the Internet and social media. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media said of the law in February 2015: “These provisions can create self-censorship among social media users in order to stop criticism and differing views, which is not applicable in a democratic society.”

Fear that the law would be used to cover the Internet was further prompted by statements from the president of Republika Srpska, who stated in connection with the law that there were no limitations on freedom of speech in the entity, but that no form of communication should be misused either.

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information for Bosnia and Herzegovina was originally collected by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It is reprinted here with the permission of the OSCE. Last update: March 2017.

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.

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