Internet Governance Forum: Victims of Non-Consensual Private Content Dissemination Remain Unprotected in the Federation

4. October 2023.14:13
The non-consensual sharing of private content is not punishable by law in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A discussion at the Internet Governance Forum in Sarajevo on preventing gender-based violence, violence against children, and the online dissemination of private content emphasized that the absence of appropriate legal measures and protective systems leaves victims of online violence feeling betrayed.

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Internet Governance Forum Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: BIRN BiH

At the Internet Governance Forum held in Sarajevo after a five-year hiatus, speakers emphasized the need to address the exposure of internet users in Bosnia and Herzegovina to daily violence and dangers online. One panel highlighted the necessity of raising awareness among citizens and judicial representatives to combat gender-based violence, violence against children, and the dissemination of intimate personal content on the internet.

Kemal Maksumić, a prosecutor at the Herzegovina-Neretva Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office, described his professional experience dealing with cases often mislabeled as child pornography. He underscored the importance of recognizing the internet’s dangers, and that it has a dark side.

“We have to keep in mind that social networks are outside the jurisdiction of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a prosecutor, I have to act in accordance with the law and be humane,” Maksumić stated, adding that relevant statistics should be made more accessible.

He went on to note that as internet users, children are exposed to billions of people, including predators. He also mentioned a case in which an intimate recording of a high school teacher was maliciously published online.

Maksumić clarified that law enforcement agencies, courts, and prosecutor’s offices can only function within the confines of existing laws. He noted the absence of specific legislation in the Federation penalizing the publication of private content, contrasting it with the legal changes implemented in the Republic of Srpska. Maksumić stressed the need to instill a system of values within the entire society to ensure that people do not feel vulnerable and that victims are empowered to report incidents.

Elif Sariaydin, representing the Department for Violence Against Women and the Secretariat of the Monitoring Mechanism of the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, warned that every digital innovation creates new opportunities for perpetrators of violence, and that women are disproportionately affected.

“It’s not just a legislative deficiency, it’s often a lack of awareness. All online violence, carried out through technological devices, has serious consequences. It can be committed by partners or ex-partners, which is a frequent occurrence. Perpetrators use smart devices,” Sariaydin remarked.

Referencing the pillar of the Istanbul Convention concerning the protection of victims, she emphasized that awareness is implied in this protection. Sariaydin pointed to the challenges victims frequently encounter and called on states to provide sufficient training to law enforcement. She also encouraged international cooperation among law enforcement agencies as well as at the state level, given the international character of this type of violence.

“There must be a systematic application of the provisions that are in place and greater awareness among the judiciary and law enforcement, in order to identify shortcomings – whether it’s victims not reporting cases, or prosecutors or courts,” she asserted.

Anida Sokol, a researcher at the Sarajevo Mediacenter, is a member of the Coalition for Freedom of Expression and Content Moderation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was founded in June of this year as part of the UNESCO project “Social Media 4 Peace.”

Sokol highlighted the difficulty in reaching social network representatives and the lack of transparency in content removal mechanisms.

“It’s very important to distinguish between harmful and illegal content, which require different mechanisms. This is problematic because there are many different laws in BiH, some of which are not aligned with international standards,” she stated.

Sokol also referenced the recently adopted Law on Freedom of Access to Information, where international community and civil society criticisms were disregarded. She recalled the Gradačac femicide case, when the murder of a woman was live-streamed on social media, explaining that one of the coalition’s first actions was to send a letter to the social media network demanding information on the number of moderators working in the local languages and an inquiry into the prolonged availability of the video.

Aida Mahmutović, project manager of the Balkan Research Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) and co-author of a report on the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, conducted by BIRN BiH and the Geneva Center for Security Sector Management, highlighted the misuse of the term “revenge pornography.” She emphasized that the support provided to victims is still inadequate. Mahmutović referred to a specific case in the report where a girl’s intimate video was published online, noting that while this victim had the parental support to that the perpetrators were convicted, this is not commonly the case.

“The system did its job, but it didn’t fully consider what it means to be a victim in the online sphere,” said Mahmutović, adding that the online aspect was not mentioned at all in the verdicts.

Hvale Vale from the Association for Progressive Communications emphasized that there is no distinction between what happens in the digital sphere and what happens in real life.

“When someone hurts you online, you feel pain,” said Hvale Vale, who has been dealing with violence against women through technology since 2009.

She argued that this issue is not taken seriously and described solidarity as her motivation for getting involved in addressing violence. She concluded that the state must recognize the diversity of its citizens and acknowledge the responsibility to provide equal care and protection to all.

The organizing committee of the 2023 Sarajevo Forum includes BIRN BiH, the Cyber Security Excellence Center,, the Center for the Education of Judges and Prosecutors of the Federation, the Faculty of Political Sciences at Sarajevo University, and Logosoft. This event is supported by the Internet Society Foundation, the British Embassy in BiH, and the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Sarajevo.

Aida Trepanić

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