Amnesty International has called on the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to guarantee a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ahead of the first Sarajevo Queer Festival, which has received threats of violence.

The festival of art and culture, which includes exhibitions, performances, public discussions and films, is planned to take place between 24 and 28 September, and organised by a non-governmental organisation called Udruženje Q.

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

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.

“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,” an activist of Udruženje Q reports Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has strongly condemned 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.

“The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina are obliged to safeguard the rights of lesbian and gay people to gather and express freely their views. They must promptly investigate all cases of direct threats against them and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International further called on the authorities to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly without discrimination, to provide adequate protection to LGBT people and to ensure that police officers are provided with training to protect the human rights of all individuals without discrimination.

The rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression are recognised and protected by a number of international treaties to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

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