Freedom of expression under threat in Kosovo

Expression

In June 2016 a journalist from the public broadcaster, Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK), received a number of threats from individuals identifying themselves as past senior officers in the Kosovo Liberation Army, the former paramilitary force. Reports of journalists being threatened come at a time when the government is also using the legal system to target the media, including RTK. On 20 May 2016, RTK was ordered to leave its headquarters in the capital Pristina within five days, by the Kosovo Privatization Agency (KPA). The KPA claimed that RTK had been using the building illegally for almost two decades. RTK’s general director Mentor Shala responded that the public broadcaster was given the building by the UN mission in Kosovo following the end of the Kosovo War in 1999. The broadcaster has so far ignored these threats from the government. 

Media practitioners continue to practise self-censorship, however, and this has practice has grown among Serbian media in Kosovo. Political interference and lack of adequate financial resources also plague media outlets in Kosovo and prevent them from being viewed as truly independent. Despite this, in August 2016 a Pristina-based website released excerpts of wiretapped conversations exposing the ruling party’s political nepotism in the allocation of top public sector.

Peaceful Assembly

Between May and August 2016, numerous protests have taken place on a variety of issues. These have included demonstrations to demand greater government accountability and workers' rights, minority rights and animal rights. These mobilisations took place across Kosovo without unwarranted state interference. No request to stage a protest was denied, except on one occasion when protesters were  prevented from reaching their destination and asked to change the venue.

That being said, while a demarcation dispute between Kosovo and Montenegro was settled in 2015, opposition MPs and activists visited a border town to demonstrate against Kosovo losing several hectares of land in the settlement. In June 2016,  activists threw paint over a car belonging to the head of the government's border demarcation commission in protest. Activists from the radical group Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) claimed responsibility for the act, and have been the subject of ongoing government aggression as a result of such actions. Kosovo Authorities forcefully deported several high profile Vetevendosje activists over the course of 2016. On 22 July 2016, Vetevendosje activists threw paint over the Kosovo Interior Minister's car, causing the car to crash. The group has warned that they will continue to carry out such attacks unless their exiled colleagues are allowed to return to Kosovo. 

On a separate note,  hundreds marched in Pristina in May 2016 on the first ever LGBTI pride parade held in Kosovo.

Association

On 27 June 2016, the government suspended five civil society organisations under suspicion of encouraging radicalisation and recruitment of Kosovar citizens to foreign armed conflicts. This comes at a time when the Kosovar authorities are increasing the scope and remit of counter-terrorism legislation.

On 25 May 2016, proposed legislation on the freedom of association was adopted by the Assembly of Kosovo. After an intense advocacy campaign by civil society, the majority of the restrictive provisions in another law, the Law on Prevention of Money Laundry and Fight against Financing of Terrorism, were removed.

Kosovar civil society's demonstrable record of positively influencing policy decisions was seen again in May 2016, when a Model on Public Funding for CSOs was adopted by the government. This came after two years of deliberations, and following extensive input from civil society representatives. The new model aims to establish a transparent framework for the allocation of public funds, and enhance government cooperation with civil society.