Appointment of the new Director in the public broadcaster triggers fierce condemnation
Appointment of the new Director in the public broadcaster triggers fierce condemnation by international media watchdogs.
International media watchdogs condemned Rilind Gërvalla’s appointment as the new director of the Albanian-language channels in the public broadcaster of Kosovo. Gërvalla, who has held a number of positions within the Radio Television of Kosovo since its foundation, is associated with the ruling party Lëvizja Vetëvendosje, as he was seen at a meeting of the party’s General Council and has donated to the party according to the financial report that Lëvizja Vetëvendosje submitted to the Central Election Commission in 2020. The European Center for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, the Global Network for Independent Media, International Press Institute, Article 19 Europe, and Reporters Without Borders criticised Gërvalla’s election by the Radio and Television of Kosovo’s Board and deemed the decision a “betrayal” of the commitments to depoliticise the public broadcaster. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) also stated that the appointment of Gërvalla will negatively affect Kosovo’s ranking in terms of media freedom. The AJK has demanded a new recruitment process, free of any kind of political interference.
📢#Kosovo🇽🇰: Following the election of Rilind Gervalla, close to the ruling party, as director of @rtklivecom, RSF joins its partners in calling - in an open letter to PM @albinkurti - for a new selection process. The public broadcaster must be more, not less independent! 👇 pic.twitter.com/6YGp2uCsrt— RSF (@RSF_inter) February 3, 2023
The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) denounced intimidation, denigrating language, and threats towards journalists.
- A journalist with Kallxo.com, Behar Mustafa, was intimidated by an official of the Municipality of Fushë Kosova. The journalist was threatened with the initiation of criminal prosecution after he published an investigation that included the official’s son. The AJK denounced the case, while recalling that defamation is decriminalised in Kosovo.
- A member of the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council (KPC) used denigrating language towards the Betimi për Drejtësi TV show’s team, after the publication of an investigation where he is suspected of misusing his position. At the KPC meeting, he accused Betimi për Drejtësi of publishing an “ordered” report, while comparing it to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The AJK condemned the language used by a member of KPC and called upon officials to not use public institutions to smear journalists.
- A T7 journalists’ team was chased with firearms by three Kosovo Serbs in Leposaviq. The TV crew went to Leposaviq to report on an anti-contraband action of the Kosovo Police, when a car with three armed people started to chase them. The AJK denounced the threat to the journalists and invited law enforcement authorities to provide further security for journalists in the north of Kosovo. Attacks against journalists in the north of Kosovo have increased after the recent tensions between Kosovo and Serbia over license plates. Several assaults on journalists were reported at the end of 2022, which triggered the reaction of regional and international federations of journalists, global NGOs defending press freedom, and foreign diplomatic missions in Kosovo.
- The journalist Bujar Vitija was insulted and threatened after the publication of a series of articles on suspicions of corruption in a public hospital in Vushtrri. The AJK condemned the language used against the journalist.
Attacks on journalists were also highlighted in the Human Rights Watch 2023 Report. Threats, intimidation, and attacks on journalists, and the weak response of public authorities, were underscored as concerning issues regarding freedom of expression in Kosovo in the 33rd Human Rights Watch report.
Protests take place due to international pressure on the Government of Kosovo to establish the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo.
Tens of citizens, invited by the Albanian Institute for Geopolitics, protested against the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo. They criticised previous governments for signing the agreement on Association, while calling upon the current Government not to implement it. Tens of students and citizens joined the invitation from the Student Parliament of the University of Prishtina to march against the establishment of the Association. Under the slogan “Together against the Association”, they called upon the Government not to establish the Association. The Student Parliament has claimed that a monoethnic entity is contrary to the multiethnic nature of Kosovo’s Constitution, and instead of bringing more rights for Kosovo Serbs, it would bring more influence of Serbia into Kosovo. The protest was held on the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the University of Prishtina. Citizens also gathered in the village of Gushavc in Mitrovica.
Activists of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) held an action in front of the Government’s building on the day of the meeting between the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, and President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, in Brussels. They placed a cartoon billboard reading “Tension for Association”, where Kurti and Vučić are shown facing each other with boxing gloves, whereas under the table they shake hands in sign of agreement. The SDP’s Chairman, Dardan Molliqaj, has claimed that the tensions in the north of Kosovo were intentional and aimed at creating an environment for concession, which is the establishment of the Association. The SDP has invited all opponents of the Association to join their actions and protests in the following days. In a separate action, activists of the SDP laid out in front of the Government building with the petition of 2015 - signed by about 200,000 citizens against the Association. The SDP has claimed that Prime Minister Albin Kurti has disregarded citizens’ will when he accepted the EU Plan, including the establishment of the Association, in the EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia for the normalisation of relations between the two countries.
Activists and citizens march on International Women’s Day against violence against women. The Collective “We march, we don’t celebrate” marched on International Women’s Day in Prishtina, demanding justice for murdered and raped women. Activists, joined by citizens, protested in front of the law enforcement authorities with the slogan “Women are murdered, the state stays silent”, blaming public authorities for neglecting cases of violence against women. Similar activities were held in other municipalities of Kosovo as well. Over 50 women have been murdered in less than 15 years in Kosovo, whereas about 2,000 cases of domestic violence are reported annually. Last year, the Government supported legal amendments that would tough punishments for domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Kosovo Serbs protest over various issues. A group of Kosovo Serbs protested in North Mitrovica against the policies of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and the Serbian List towards Kosovo Serbs. They blamed Vučić of failing to represent Kosovo Serbs’ interests and accused Serbian List officials of nepotism and self-enrichment. The Movement Survival of Serbs protested in North Mitrovica, demanding the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo as a precondition for signing new agreements between Kosovo and Serbia in the EU-facilitated dialogue in Brussels. Kosovo Serbs in Leposaviq protested twice against the Government’s decisions to expropriate several real estate properties of special public interest, which are necessary for the realisation of infrastructure projects in Dren and Leshak villages. They claimed that the Government aims at constructing a police station on expropriated land, while deeming the decisions non-transparent, against their will, and illegal.
Protests organised by (former) employees over a variety of concerns. Employees of the regional waste cleaning company Pastrimi gathered to demand increased salaries and improvement in working conditions. They have threatened to boycott if their demands are not met. Former employees of the Social Enterprise Rilindja demanded 20% of the share from the sale of the enterprise by the Privatisation Agency of Kosovo. They have also called for an immediate amendment to the Law on Pensions that would recognise their working experience, allowing them to access full pensions. Former employees of the joint stock company Kosova Thëngjilli protested in front of the Government’s building, demanding their return to work under Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEC). Kosova Thëngjilli workers have remained unemployed since July 2022, when the contract with KEC expired. One person was arrested at the protest.
Other actions by activists from the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Activists of the SDP held an action in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, demanding the dismissal of the Ambassador of Kosovo to Croatia, Martin Berishaj, suspected of involvement in a series of corruption scandals. In a symbolic way, they placed flags with the 500 EUR banknote on the background of Berishaj’s face. In another action in front of the Government’s building, activists of the SDP criticised the Government for its inaction and blamed it for not fulfilling election campaign promises in its two year mandate.
Gatherings on enhancing standards in higher education take place. The Organisation for the Improvement of Quality in Education (ORCA) held an action in front of the Assembly of Kosovo, opposing some of the proposed amendments to the Draft Law on the Kosovo Accreditation Agency. In a separate action in front of the Rectorate of the University of Prishtina, ORCA called upon the Steering Council to terminate the contracts for two professors who were found guilty of plagiarism in their publications. Students of Medicine in the University of Prishtina gathered in front of their faculty, complaining about the lack of cooperation and consultation of the faculty’s management with students in setting the exam timetable.
Other peaceful assemblies held in the reporting period:
- The children of martyrs, joined by former Kosovo Liberation Army members, opposition MPs, and citizens, protested against statements made by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on the fifth anniversary of Oliver Ivanović’s assassination, in which he commended the former Kosovo Serb leader as someone who fought for his town, his community’s interests, and for a multi-ethnic Kosovo. Under the slogans, “Prime Minister, don’t tread on our blood! Cease deviating from history” and “Prime Minister, don’t glorify criminals”, the protesters demanded Kurti’s resignation and a public apology from him. In a separate action in front of the Government’s building, activists of the Social Democratic Party placed a cardboard cutout of Ivanović to “console” Kurti. Oliver Ivanović was assassinated in 2018 in North Mitrovica and is believed to have been murdered for political reasons because of his speaking out against the main Kosovo Serb political party backed by Serbia. He had been found guilty for war crimes and was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2016; however, the Appeals Court overturned the guilty decision and mandated a new trial.
- Ukrainian journalists sheltering in Kosovo gathered under the slogans “Thanks for standing with Ukraine” and “Let’s stop Russia together” on the anniversary of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. They marched in the squares of Prishtina and lit candles in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Citizens also joined the journalists’ march, whereas the Government’s building was lit up in the Ukrainian flag colors. Kosovo has sheltered twelve journalists since the commencement of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
- Representatives of swimming clubs protested in front of the Ministry of Sport over alleged political interference in the Kosovo Aquatic Sports Federation. Due to disagreements, swimming clubs have been divided into two groups, with each group claiming to be legitimate to lead the Federation. While the International Swimming Federation recognises one group as the legitimate one, the Ministry of Sports recognises the other.
- Tenants in Prishtina protested in front of the Municipality over the increased prices in housing.