BIRN BiH Journalist Lamija Grebo and Dzana Brkanic, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina deputy editor, have won second prize of the European Union Investigative Journalism Awards for an investigation based on court verdicts over the past ten years for hate crimes.
Photo: BIRN BiH
The jury consisting of media expert Lamija Aleckovic, Political Sciences Faculty professor Lejla Turcilo and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation director Tanja Topic from Banja Luka awarded Grebo and Brkanic for their multimedia data research, which showed that hate crimes were mostly sanctioned with suspended sentences, with only one quarter of those convicted being imprisoned, and investigations in some cases taking more than 20 years.
Awarding the prize, Turcilo said the story threw light on the absurdity of the court system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointing to the need for changes in Bosnian society.
“Suspended Sentences Do not Prevent the Spread of Hate” was based on verdicts passed down before all courts in Bosnia over a ten-year period. It revealed also that there was no unified system for registering such crimes, which has made the monitoring and investigating of those cases more difficult.
The two journalists thanked members of BIRN BiH newsroom for their help, adding that they appreciated the European Union Award and the jury which recognized their work.
“Many hours of browsing through hundreds of court and prosecutorial decisions, numerous queries, interviews with experts, but also with our fellow citizens who have still not seen justice after 20 years, stand behind this investigation. At a time when hate crimes are happening nearly on a daily basis, it is even more important to point to this problem with a view to improving the prosecution, ensuring justice for victims and achieving a potential general prevention [of such crimes],” Grebo said.
Brkanic said the value of the award was reflected in the additional visibility of investigative stories, which bring changes in society, adding that she hoped this story also would have a positive impact in favour of victims.
“Returnees live in fear throughout BiH, minorities are endangered, and no one has information about the attack on LGBTIQ activists and fellow journalists in March this year. Hence, this award, alongside the support which independent newsrooms such as ours get from foreign donors, represents an incentive and obligation to continue with our work,” she said.
Brkanic and Grebo shared second place with Predrag Blagovcanin, who was awarded for his story titled “Between the HDZ and DF: How the Defence Ministry of BiH Protected a War Criminal”.
First prize was awarded to Semira Degirmendzic for a story titled “Turkish Cengiz Wins Contracts Worth a Billion KM, but Fails to Pay Compensation to Bosnian Workers”. Third prize went to Arduana Pribinja for a story titled “Abuse of Patients in Sarajevo: False Diagnoses for Expensive Medicines”.
Johann Sattler, Head of the Delegation and Special Representative of EU in Bosnia, said during the awards ceremony that Bosnian citizens had the right to be informed about irregularities in society.
“Professional journalism is essential for the health of the society, while freedom of the media and expression is one of the key priorities for the entry of BiH into the European Union,” said Sattler, adding that without achieving this priority, Bosnia could not join the EU.
In 2021, BIRN BiH deputy editor Brkanic won the third prize of the European Union Investigative Journalism Awards for a piece on the non-transparent collection of humanitarian aid for construction of wells and mosques in Africa.
The EU Investigative Journalism Award celebrates the best investigative stories written in the previous calendar year and is awarded in all six Western Balkan countries (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia) and Turkey. The organiser of the award ceremony, Thomson Media, an organisation with multi-year experience in developing and promoting media freedom, awarded a regional prize for the first time this year.
Grebo and Brkanic previously won a special European Press Prize in 2020, as members of BIRN BiH, for “efforts and success in ensuring justice for victims of war crimes”.
Jointly with their colleague Jasmin Begic, they were shortlisted for the Srdjan Aleksic Journalism Award in 2022 in the “contribution to the community” category.