Berlin, March 1, 2023 – Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities should immediately drop an investigation into three journalists with the print daily EuroBlic and privately owned news website SrpskaInfo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On February 24, police in the northwestern city of Banja Luka questioned crime reporter Nikola Morača on suspicion of violating the confidentiality of a criminal investigation and confiscated his phone after he published an article the previous day in EuroBlic and SrpskaInfo, two Serbian-language publications under the Ringier parent company, alleging that local authorities failed to arrest a suspect in connection with the rape of an 18-year-old girl, according to news reports and the journalist, who communicated with CPJ via email.
Also that day, police questioned Siniša Trkulja, responsible editor for SrpskaInfo, and Boris Lakić, SrpskaInfo’s executive editor, and Nebojša Tomašević, reporter for privately owned news website Glas Srpska, which published a summary of Morača’s article.
Morača, Trkulja, and Lakić remain criminal suspects, and could face up to one year each in prison if charged and convicted, according to CPJ’s review of the Criminal Code in Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two semi-autonomous entities of which Banja Luka is the capital.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities must immediately drop all charges against journalists at EuroBlic and SrpskaInfo, return Nikola Morača’s cellphone, and ensure that members of the press do not face judicial harassment for simply doing their jobs,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Prosecuting these journalists will have a chilling effect on crime reporting in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Police unsuccessfully searched the EuroBlic and SrpskaInfo newsrooms in Banja Luka for Morača on February 24, he told CPJ. After he and his lawyer responded to the summons, police and prosecutors questioned him for three hours about his work and how he knew the initials of the suspect’s name, which Morača said prosecutors had made public. Morača declined to reveal his sources, he told CPJ.
Police denied pressuring Morača to reveal his sources, SrpskaInfo reported.
EuroBlic and SrpskaInfo editors defended Morača’s article in a statement, but said they were willing to remove it while the investigation was ongoing.The article, which CPJ reviewed, has since been taken down from SrpskaInfo’s website.
The editors called the investigation “open pressure on [Morača], our newsroom, and the journalistic profession.”
Morača told SrpskaInfo that he considered it his journalistic duty to report that prosecutors had not ordered the arrest of the suspect identified by police in the rape investigation.
CPJ emailed questions to the police and the prosecutor’s office in Banja Luka but received no reply.
[Editor’s note: The reference to the criminal code in the fourth paragraph has been corrected.]