Rights activists assaulted after LGBT event ban

Rights activists assaulted after LGBT event ban

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – Rights activists in the Serb-run part of Bosnia were deeply criticized Saturday, hours after an LGBT event there was banned over the weekend, citing security concerns.

The attack happened as workers from the Bosnian branch of the global anti-corruption group Transparency International were leaving a meeting in Banja Luka. The meeting was organized after an event in the northwestern city on Sunday that was banned by local police to promote LGBT rights.

Activists said dozens of people chased them through the streets, hurling insults and punches. Before the police arrived at the scene, several workers were injured, one of whom required medical attention.

Banja Luka police said law enforcement officers took the workers to the police station to take their statements and are still looking for the perpetrators.

The canceled LGBT event, organized and supported by various rights groups across Bosnia, was to include a film screening followed by a panel discussion. Its announcement sparked a strong homophobic backlash last week, including the Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, who said LGBT people were “harassment” and that he hoped “official bodies will prevent them from gathering in closed spaces and open spaces.”

Banja Luka Mayor Drasko Stanivukovic also condemned the incident, saying that the LGBT community should confine itself to Bosnia’s multiethnic capital of Sarajevo, as Bosnian Serbs “cherish the patriarchal, traditional family and are clear about our faith and our identity.”

Bosnia is highly conservative and was divided by the 1992-95 ethnic war involving Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Despite some progress over the years to reduce discrimination, homophobia remains deep-seated.

Since 2019, an annual pride parade in Sarajevo has been held regularly without significant unrest, but with a heavy presence of law enforcement agencies.

The violence in Banja Luka drew condemnation from European Union officials, several Western embassies and international organizations.

“Words have consequences,” the EU mission in Bosnia tweeted, adding that regular verbal attacks by Bosnian Serb politicians against civil society activists and journalists “are a climate where physical attacks can follow.”

The British ambassador to Bosnia, Julian Reilly, agreed in a tweet that the “shocking attack on civilian workers … showed the true impact of hate speech.”

The US Embassy in Sarajevo tweeted that Bosnian Serb authorities must “identify and prosecute those who committed this heinous act.”

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