Victory in name only for environmental CSOs
In July 2019, four Kosovar CSO’s, namely Balkan Green Foundation, GAP institute, Group for Legal and Political Studies and the Institute for Development Policy, raised concerns over public access to information. More specifically, the four organisations became embroiled in a legal battle with the Ministry of Economic Development over access to documents relating to the planned construction of a new thermal power station named “New Kosovo”. There have been several concerns related to the station's environmental impact, the tendering process and the potential impact of the new station on the price of electricity for people in Kosovo.
The four CSOs took legal action against the Ministry of Economic Development after they refused to release documents related to the new power station. The CSOs claimed that refusal to release the documentation was in breach of the Law on Access to Public Documents and sued the Ministry. In a victory for civil society, the court ruled in favour of the CSOs. But, while on paper the victory belonged to civil society, the Ministry of Economic Development refused to release the requested documents until the Appeals Court reviews their complaint.
In a statement, the CSOs commented on the incident by saying:
"Although there are two court cases won, no one has been convicted, no officials who are held responsible for violating the law on access to public documents, neither is the Ministry punished as foreseen by the law on access to public documents. Only access to the documents, which are old, is allowed."
Kosovo’s new power plant will cause the average price of electricity to skyrocket, and in the face of both cheaper and safer options, will willfully cost the Kosovo taxpayer billions over the next twenty years.https://t.co/gBFUdLjwdw— Prishtina Insight (@PrishtInsight) June 24, 2019
In a separate incident, on 19th July 2019 a journalist was harassed while trying to investigate a story in Prizren. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) condemned the intimidation of TV BESA journalist Gramos Zurnaxhiu while reporting on construction taking place in the commercial complex “Abi Çarshia”. The construction had demolished parts of the complex without adequate construction permits, prompting Zurnaxhiu to investigate the story. After arriving at the site, the journalist was accosted by unknown individuals who threatened him, forcing him to leave the scene. The incident was later reported to the local police for a full investigation.
AJK also responded quickly to another incident of slander by a political party. On 22nd August 2019, AJK released a press release citing their concerns over the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK) supposedly attacking the media outlet Gazeta Express. The political party released a press release urging the public "not to believe Gazeta Express' fake news". Media watchdogs have criticised the actions of one of Kosovo's largest political parties by arguing it is a flagrant interference of the work of an independently critical media outlet. Similarly, the episode has highlighted how public parties use their prominence to pressure media outlets that are critical of their policies. In a statement, AJK said:
"The AJK urges the PDK to distance itself from the language used in this case, which violates the professional integrity of journalists."
In another separate but related incident, the AJK noted that public officials have also targeted journalists. On 31st August 2019, MP Sami Kurteshi posted on Facebook that the Director of the public broadcaster RTK Mentor Shala and Editor in Chief Ridvan Berisha were involved in propaganda over the suspicious death of Vetëvendosje! activist Astrit Denhari in 2016. Most shockingly of all, he framed their roles as similar to Joseph Goebbels, the German Nazi politician and Minister of Propaganda during Hitler's Third Reich. The post can be viewed below.
A number of protests have taken place recently in Kosovo on a variety of issues. According to our reporting of the situation none has been unreasonably denied or interfered with. Below are some examples:
- Protests were held in Prishtina and Fushe Kosova against the murder of a 12-year-old Roma boy (March against racism) and lack of institutional action after previous reports of abuse. Tragically, the boy’s murder happened after he was previously molested and raped by the same individual, something which the boy’s mother reported to the police, who failed to intervene;
- In Gjakova, a protest was organised calling for the release of ex Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldier Tomor Morina, who was taken into custody in Northern Macedonia after an international arrest warrant was previously released by Serbia;
- A protest was organised in Koretin, a village in the vicinity of Gjilan, over the heavy pollution of the local river by the introduction of raw sewage into the river;
- Protest organised in support of suspended police officers in Gjakova. People gathered in Gjakova to support six suspended police officers, including a captain, due to their participation in a firefight with a robber on the run. The gathering believed that the police officers were needlessly suspended for doing their job;
- Pristina International Airport employees held a strike in front of the passenger terminal demanding an implementation of the Collective Employment Contract. The Collective Employment Contract stipulates that employees have their lunch and commuting costs reimbursed while also providing a jubilee wage every 10 years for employees. The Contract was negotiated with the Law on Labour as a basis and it is meant to regulate the rights of employees in both the public and private sectors;
- A march on 30th August 2019 was organised to mark the International Day for Missing Persons.