Over the last few days, a proposal of Law on Public Order in RS has stirred quite a controversy. The explanation of the law states that the definition of the term ‘public place’ will be extended to online social networks, this being justified by the assumption that certain offenses to public order might be organized online. Moreover, the new law introduces prison sentences for offenses which were originally punishable only by a fine. This can lead to online activities being treated as a violation of public order and even being punished with a prison sentence.
These changes to the law are indeed a reason for concern, especially when certain RS government’s activities are taken into account. The RS Ministry of Interior, for example, has already threatened the RS citizens who showed online support for JMBG protests in 2013, while the recent case of raiding the offices of “Klix” portal clearly demonstrated that RS authorities will go to any lengths to limit the freedom of the press in order to stay in power. This proposal attacks probably the last free media “territory” in Republika Srpska – the Internet. If adopted, it will de facto mean that citizens who don’t agree with the policy of the government, and, let’s say, use their personal social networks accounts to invite like-minded people to protest, could end up behind bars.
In her response to criticism about the proposal and accusations that the new procedures will be an invasion of privacy and freedom of speech, the Prime Minister of RS, Željka Cvijanović, stated that the draft law has passed all necessary procedures in the RS National Assembly and that there was plenty of the time for possible interventions. “It has passed all the procedures in July, before the summer break. I don’t know why it didn’t cause any reaction at that time.” said Cvijanović, quite misleadingly when one looks at the facts.
Namely, although it is true that the draft law passed the procedure in July 2014, the latest version was written in December 2014 and adopted in January 2015. Significant changes were made compared to the draft presented in July, specifically introducing imprisonment sentence for violations of this law. The proposal law from December 2014 even lists specific differences between the proposal and the July draft:
National Assembly of Republika Srpska, at the 35th regular meeting held on July 2, 2014, adopted the Draft Law on Public Order. As a result of harmonization with the provisions of the Law on Minor Offences of Republika Srpska (“Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbian”, No. 63/14), which in the meantime, on July 26th 2014, entered into force, the bill in respect of the draft was amended in articles 3, 8, 11, 12, 16, 23, 24, 26, 31 and the 32.
In the article 3, after the words “shall be pronounced”, the words “sentence of imprisonment” are added.
In the Article 8, after the words “800 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 30 days” are added.
In Article 11, after the words “900 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 30 days” are added.
In Article 12, paragraph 1 after the words “1200 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 40 days” are added.
In Article 12, Paragraph 2, after the words “1600 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 60 days” are added.
In Article 16, after the words “1200 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 40 days” are added.
In Article 23, after the words “1500 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 40 days” are added.
In Article 24, after the words “1500 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 60 days” are added. This article refers to “preventing a public institutions or officials from performing their duties or refusing to immediately follow orders or requests of a public official“.
In Article 26, Paragraph 2, after the words “1200 KM”, the words “or by imprisonment not exceeding 40 days” are added.
In Article 31, after the words “fine prescribed for that offense”, the words “or by imprisonment for 60 days” are added. This article says also that if “the offence in articles 11, 12. and 24. is committed by a group of people, or the offender is masked to conceal his/her identity, the fine will be double the amount of the fine for that offence”.
Articles 24. and 31. can be easily used against the protesters, so the changes from the Draft Law are more harmful to freedom of speech and privacy of active citizens.
So, even if there was no objections to the draft law, it is obvious that it was impossible to react to Draft Law in July, since these changes were only introduced a month ago, which makes Prime Minister Cvijanović's statement utterly untrue.
It is interesting that the RS Ministry of Interior sided with the Prime Minister’s false claims, just as it did in the affair of buying MPs in RS National Assembly. The statement of MUP RS on the controversy about the new law states that “the National Assembly processed the Draft Law on Public Order at a session on July 2nd, 2014 and it was available to the public on the official website of the RS Ministry of Interior and RS parliament for making comments, suggestions and proposals”, ignoring the enormous differences between the proposal and the draft which did not include the introduction of prison sentences for offenses.