Threats and manipulation stifle journalism in Kosovo
Recent developments have highlighted real dangers to freedom of expression in Kosovo. On 11th November, a high ranking official from the Vetevendosje (Self Determination) party controversially said that he would throw all pro-government journalists in prison when his party comes to power. While the party leadership quickly distanced themselves from the comments, many freedom of expression advocates claim that this rhetoric is illustrative of a declining respect for free speech in Kosovo. The official's comments were made in the wake of a media leak of video footage of the detention centre where Vetevendosje party activist Astrit Dehari mysteriously died.
Threats against individual journalists have also been recently documented in Kosovo. On 27th October, Leonard Kerquki received numerous death threats after he directed two documentaries that questioned the role of the Kosovan Liberation Army in crimes committed during the late 1990s.
Kosovo Urged to Protect Journalist after Death Threats https://t.co/sINYKlYLtk #Balkan #News— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) October 27, 2016
In a statement, international rights group Reporters Without Borders condemned the threats against Kerquki and called upon Kosovar authorities to offer him adequate protection. The Association of Journalists in Kosovo called the abuse 'intolerable' and pointed to the recent rise in smears against journalists who report on politically sensitive issues. In a statement, the group stated:
'With great concern we have received notification that our colleague Leonard Kerquki has received hundreds of death threats after the broadcast of a documentary.'
As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, the beleaguered national broadcaster, RTK remains vulnerable to political coercion. Recently, RTK has expressed concerns over the financial stability of the broadcaster and the lack of funding from government. Many claim that Kosovar authorities have taken deliberate steps to financially weaken the broadcaster, thereby leaving it vulnerable to political manipulation.
On 10th October, President Hashim Thaci caused uproar among journalists after he scheduled a press conference and subsequently refused to answer any questions from audience. Journalists present pointed out that the President's actions were indicative of an environment where politicians openly reject being held to account. Finally, the presiding judge in the Basic Court of Pristina decided to close all trial sessions for public and media in the case of former Appeal Court president. The judge felt that the presence of media would detract from proceedings; a move that has been widely condemned by civil society.
On 8th November, 16 NGOs were suspended after investigations by Kosovar authorities. The legal basis for suspension, according to civil society, is unlawful, as it violates the the Law on Freedom of Association of NGOs. In a separate development, debate around the amendment of the Law on Freedom of Association of NGOs has continued, but without any significant developments.
Kosovo has seen a variety of recent protests on a diverse range of issues:
- Protest of war veterans called by the Council for the Protection of Kosovo Liberation Association (KLA) veterans;
- People in Mitrovica protested against the arrest of the Police Director;
- #Protestoj (I Protest) continued regular protests against corruption;
- In Drenas and Skenderaj people organised a protest against punishment of former KLA members;
- Thousands attended protests in Prishtina and other cities asking justice for Astrit Dehari, a Vetevendosje activist who had died in Detention Centre in Prizren in early November 2016.
Civic Space Developments