Amnesty calls on authorities to protect Bosnian gay festival

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A leading human rights group has said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are entitled to a climate free of intimidation.

Amnesty International spoke out ahead of the Sarajevo Queer Festival.

The event has angered some Muslims in the country as it coincides with Ramadan, a month-long religious observance. Croat and Serb leaders also expressed their displeasure at gay people holding such an event.

The Festival, the first of its kind in the country, is from September 24th to 27th.

Posters appeared on the streets of Sarajevo earlier this month proclaiming “Death To Gays” and imams have spoken out, claiming that homosexuality is immoral and contrary to the Koran.

“Gay rights activists will use this festival to take to the public their message for equality before the law and an end to discrimination,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“However, in the run-up to the festival, certain parts of the media are unleashing a homophobic campaign which further cultivates deeply entrenched prejudices and may incite violence around the event.

“Many publications, including the popular SAFF and Dnevni Avaz, have used derogatory language in relation to lesbian and gay people.

“They have called for the organisers of the festival to be lynched, stoned, doused with petrol or expelled from the country.

“Death threats have been issued on the Internet against individual gay rights activists. Appeals have also been made to the public to disrupt the festival.”

The Bosnia mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has expressed concern about the situation.

“The mission strongly condemns attempts to incite violence against any group within Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the OSCE said in a statement.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a potential candidate country for EU membership.

If admitted it would have the largest Muslim community of any member state.

Recent figures indicate that 40% of the population are Muslims, 31% are Orthodox Christians and 15% are Roman Catholics.

There is an equal age of consent but discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is “widespread” according to the EU.

One of the organisers of the Queer Festival told Amnesty:

“We do not feel safe for ourselves or for our families. Some of us had to find new accommodation because our names and addresses were made publicly known.

“We are afraid to use public transport or go out alone. Our dogs are our best protection at the moment. We feel isolated.”

Amnesty International said it “strongly condemns the use of homophobic language by the media and calls for it to recognise its responsibility in fostering a climate of intolerance and to play a constructive role in dismantling prejudices.”

It said the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina are obliged to safeguard the rights of lesbian and gay people to gather and express freely their views.

It called on politicians to publicly condemn, investigate and prosecute attacks, threats of attacks and other harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and provide protection for them.