Political tensions prompt protests in Kosovo
In early 2017, historical political tensions over the conflict in the Balkans during the 1990s came to the fore. On 6th January, people gathered at a protest in Kosovo's capital, Pristina to demonstrate against the French authorities' detention of former Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj. After being arrested on a Serbian war crimes arrest warrant, Haradinaj was detained in French custody pending an extradition request from Serbia. While Haradinaj has twice been tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, he was acquitted on both occasions. As a deeply divisive figure within the Balkans region, Serbian authorities maintain allegations that he was complicit in war crimes during his tenure as a guerrilla commander with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The arrest and detention of Haradinaj prompted a wave of protests from ethnic-Albanians in Kosovo and beyond. Throughout early January, diaspora activists in Macedonia, New York, Washington and Brussels took to the streets to protest against Haradinaj's detention. Amid rising diplomatic tensions, Haradinaj was released by from the judicial supervision of French authorities on 12th January after surrendering his passport. Despite continued protests, Haradinaj's extradition hearing was postponed until 2nd March.
In a separate development, protests over the death of Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) activist Astrit Dehari, who died while in police custody on 5th November, have continued. The CIVICUS Monitor recently covered the wave of demonstrations at the end of 2016 that called for a thorough and impartial investigation into Dehari's death. A speech given by a close friend of Dehari at a mobilisation on 24th November noted:
'Astrit died in the hands of this justice system. He was jailed and held in detention 68 days without any indictment. On the 68th day he came out of jail, but as a dead man.'
Kosovar civil society groups have led the charge in the #JusticeForAstrit (#DrejtësiPërAstritin) movement by calling for an immediate investigation into those responsible for his death, the dismissal of those who are alleged to have mishandled the case and the resignation of the Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs. After a petition for civil society's demands reached 23,000 signatures Kosovo MPs spent five hours debating the case in Parliament. The campaign continues.
#Kosovo MPs spend over five hours debating mysterious death in prison of opposition activist Astrit Dehari https://t.co/DB1TJzFuSB pic.twitter.com/2tfvQYeDp0— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) December 21, 2016
In a separate development, on 9th December activists from Peer Education Network and Science for Change Movement protested against air pollution in Kosovo. Their concerns also relate the lack of publicly available data on air pollution in Pristina; in response, the activists spent time during the protest periodically measuring the air quality in Mother Teresa square. The protest forms part of a larger campaign called, ‘Protect Your Children From the Invisible Killer’ which aims to raise awareness of the health risks associated with unsafe air pollution.
On 25th November, Kosovar women’s rights activists and other citizens marched through Prishtina to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
As we've previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, intimidation, manipulation and threats directed at journalists have come to epitomise a situation where investigative journalism is not welcome. In early December, during mayoral elections in Drenas/Glogovac the state Prosecutor stated that the office will take legal measures against journalists, media portals or social media posts that contain 'false information' during the plebiscite. The Association of Journalists in Kosovo (AJK) reacted strongly, claiming that the fear of persecution under arbitrary parameters would ultimately degrade the space for independent political dissent. AJK called the approach unacceptable and called upon the public institution to become more involved in enhancing cooperation with the media.
A recent statement by a Vetevendosje official against the Director General of public broadcaster RTK and an editor-in-chief has drawn condemnation from freedom of speech advocates, due to the unacceptable language threatening physical violence. As already covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, aggressive language against journalists by Vetevendosje has become a common occurrence in Kosovo. The AJK commented on the situation in a press statement on 10th December:
'Such language should not be used in relation to the media and should not come from political parties.'
The comments come at a time when Kosovo's ambassador to Italy recently insulted and verbally abused a journalist on social media. Alta Lama's comments drew widespread condemnation with many viewing her behaviour unacceptable for a civil servant.
In another worrying development, on 12th December, the banning of media from the "Land Fraud" case in Kosovo has set a dangerous precedent for judicial transparency. The case exposed a corruption scandal involving several prominent politicians and judges. The banning of media has been viewed by many as indicative of a context where enforced selective reporting is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Kosovo’s closed corruption trials criticized by journalists as ‘undermining faith in justice system’ https://t.co/guWQ3uGd2h— Nations in Transit (@FH_NIT) December 1, 2016
As we previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the process of amending the Kosovo's law on freedom of association is ongoing. While some restrictive provisions have been noted in the first draft, the process is still in its early stages and consultation is underway.
Civic Space Developments