Police fine women rights activists for IWD actions

Police fine women rights activists for IWD actions
LGBTQI+ rights have come under attack (REUTERS/Florion Goga).

Association

Kosovar Civil Society Foundation surveyed 18 new CSOs registered in the period between 11th February 2022 and 6th April 2022, with the aim of understanding if they faced any obstacles, delays or problems during the registration process and opening of bank accounts.

The majority of surveyed CSOs stated that they have not faced any obstacles, delays or problems during their registration. Any requests for additional documents from the Department for NGOs or any recommended changes in the objectives, scope or statute of CSOs have been reasonable and submitted in writing in accordance with deadlines provided by law and administrative instruction.

More than half of the surveyed CSOs have not yet opened bank accounts. However, CSOs that have done so reported complicated and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, and also complained about high fees for maintaining CSOs’ bank accounts.

Peaceful Assembly 

Protests related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Youth Initiative for Human Rights Kosova, joined by a group of citizens, protested in front of the Russian Liaison Office in Pristina calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Under the slogans “Stop the war, save Ukraine”, “The world has seen enough wars”, “Protect human rights” and “Peace is cheaper”, they drew parallels between the sufferings of the Ukrainian people and the sufferings of Kosovar people during the last war in 1999.

In a separate rally, the Forum for Civic Initiatives, joined by citizens, NGOs, representatives of foreign embassies in Kosovo, the President of Kosovo and other representatives of public institutions, gathered in solidarity with the Ukrainian people under the slogans “Stay strong Ukraine” and “Peace for Ukraine”. The Republic of Kosovo has joined Western democracies in imposing sanctions on Russia, while the government has announced its readiness to receive Ukrainian refugees.

A pro-Russia gathering was also marked during the reporting period with dozens of Kosovo Serbs in North Mitrovica calling upon the “Ukrainian brothers” to join “Russian brothers” and get rid of the “Ukrainian Nazis”. They called for a unification of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples “against the West”.

Marches on International Women’s Day.

On International Women’s Day, the collective “We march, we do not celebrate”, joined by hundreds of citizens and activists, marched to strengthen gender equality. The march commenced from the Palace of Justice and continued along the squares of the capital Pristina, towards the security and justice institutions including the Kosovo Police, Judicial Council and Prosecution Office, and ended in front of the government building. The protesters held the law enforcement institutions responsible for failing to prevent the killings of 48 women murdered by men since 2010. They threw red paint on the buildings and wrote the slogan “How many more killed women?”. In memory of them, the protesters placed 48 red shoes in front of the government building, while a red carpet was released from the Ombudsperson building. Under the slogans “Murder of women is a national urgency”, “How many more missed calls?”, “Feminism will liberate us”, “The court has blood on its hands”, “All killers are recidivists”, and “Justice for the killed women”, the protesters marched demanding justice for sexually harassed, raped and beaten girls, as well as women who have been denied their property rights. Similar marches were also held in other towns of Kosovo, with citizens and activists demanding justice and equality for women. The organisers of the march claimed that the high number of participants demonstrates a positive change in society and proves that 8th March is no longer considered simply “Mother’s Day”, but a day when women, in general, oppose inequality.

However, after the march, the collective “We march, we do not celebrate” was fined by the Kosovo Police for “disturbing public order and damaging public property”. The collective has stated that this represents an act of revenge by the police against the activists for their criticism of the law enforcement institutions for their inadequate handling of cases of violence against women and they considered the fine unfair since the march was pre-announced. Further, the collective has stated that this marks an attempt to intimidate and weaken feminist organisations in Kosovo. 

Protests for LGBTQI+ rights

During March 2022, amid strong debates, the Assembly of Kosovo failed to approve the new draft Civil Code in the first reading. However, the language used by some MPs in the Assembly was followed by actions and protests from civil society organisations promoting LGBTQI+ rights. In one action, NGO “Dylberizm” covered the walls of public spaces with graffiti messages such as “MPs pledge in the Constitution, not in the Qur'an”, “Secularism = Separation of the state from religion”, and “Corruption is a crime, not love”. Under the motto "Homophobes, you have no place in the Assembly", the Organisation for Equality and Freedom, “CEL Kosova”, protested in front of the Assembly of Kosovo against the homophobic language used by certain MPs. "There is no state with homophobes" and "Love is not a disease", were some of the protest slogans. Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms called the language used by some MPs insulting, discriminatory and denigrating toward the LGBTQI+ community.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the President of Kosovo, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice urging MPs to include same-sex marriages in the draft Civil Code. Prior to the voting in the Assembly, religious communities signed a joint statement opposing the article of the draft Civil Code that allows the registration of same-sex unions. Moreover, political parties, namely AAK and other parties from non-majority communities (Bosniak, Turkish, and RAE communities), have also come out against this article, mainly citing electorate demands and religious and family values. The new draft Civil Code allows the registration of civil unions between persons of the same sex, but it foresees the regulation of same-sex marriages by a separate special law. On the other hand, civil society organisations promoting LGBTQI+ rights have continuously advocated for the inclusion of same-sex marriages in the new draft Civil Code and therefore have not supported the draft in its present condition.

Local issues raised through protests

  • Residents of the “Kalabria” settlement in Prishtina protested three times against the revocation of the detailed Regulatory Plan for their neighborhood by the Municipal Assembly. In a meeting with the Mayor of Prishtina, they were told that the plan was approved through unlawful procedures by the previous municipal executive and therefore must be annulled. Residents also called upon the Minister of Infrastructure to prevent the cancellation of the plan since they have been waiting for its approval and implementation for a long time and cannot wait even longer for a new plan to be drafted. Nevertheless, on 18th March 2022, amid tensions and strong discussions, the Municipal Assembly voted to cancel the plan.
  • Residents of the neighborhoods "Lakrishtë", "Center" and "Sunny Hill" in Prishtina protested several times against the company "Prishtina Parking" which is in charge of public parking lots in the capital. They complained that their cars were being locked with wheel clamps and confiscated by the company without any legal authority. Residents said that such authority belongs only to the Kosovo Police. On the other hand, “Prishtina Parking” claimed to have blocked and confiscated cars of the residents who failed to pay monthly fees. Nevertheless, parking lots in these neighborhoods cannot be classified as public parking lots since they lack horizontal, vertical and other signs, as required by the Regulation on the organisation and use of parking lots of the Municipality of Prishtina. As a result, residents have decided not to pay fees until their neighborhood's parking lots meet the criteria set by the Regulation and the Municipal Assembly reviews the Regulation over “Prishtina Parking” authorities. They also raised concerns that no prior public debate or consultation has taken place regarding the management of public parking lots in Prishtina. The Mayor of Prishtina, Përparim Rama, has announced the establishment of a working group to review the Regulation, while the operation of "Prishtina Parking" in the abovementioned neighbourhoods has been temporarily suspended.
  • Residents of several settlements in Vushtrri protested against the construction of a bridge on the highway which connects their town with Prishtina and Mitrovica. They raised concerns that the steep slope of the bridge would cause them traffic difficulties, while claiming to have not received any concrete answer from the Ministry of Infrastructure regarding their demands. The protesters said that they would continue protesting until their demands are met.
  • Residents of a neighbourhood in Ferizaj gathered to raise concerns about not being consulted prior to the construction of new multi-storey apartments in their settlement. They also filed criminal charges against the Municipality and construction companies.
  • Locals from the Bujan settlement in Lipjan filed a petition against the Kosovo Energy Distribution Service demanding the installation of a new power transformer in their village. Residents have been facing problems with poor energy quality and electricity network which is causing persistent malfunctions to their household appliances since the current power transformer cannot sustain the electricity supply for more than 200 households in the village.
  • Residents of the settlement “Çikatovë e Vjetër” in Drenas protested over contested property claims with the company “Ferronikeli”. It is reported that police intervened.

Protests and strikes staged for labour rights

  • Kosovo Nurses Union, joined by the Kosovo Chamber of Nurses, Kosovo Urological Association and the Association of Psychiatric Nurses of Kosovo, marched from the University Clinical Center of Kosovo towards the government building under the slogan “We march for a dignified salary”. They demanded a higher salary coefficient in the new draft Law on Salaries by the Government, an increase in night shift payments, and equal payment to doctors for working on weekends and holidays. With the same demands, on 5th April 2022, nurses, midwives and other health professionals also went on a one-hour strike. The protest and the strike came after an unconfirmed draft with salary coefficients was published in the media, where nurses were ranked with low coefficients. On 30th June 2020, the draft law was declared null and void by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo which found it in conflict with 11 articles of the Constitution. Since then, labour unions have been consistently advocating and protesting for an accelerated re-drafting process of the Law.
  • Administration workers in justice institutions went on strike demanding approval of the law on the administration of justice institutions. They are also demanding higher salaries, linear payments up to 150 euros for every employee until the entry into force of the Law on Salaries, as well as payments for daily meals and travel to up to three euros per day. The strike was suspended three weeks later, while the demands remain the same.
  • Employees of the “NewCo Ferronikeli” company once again protested in front of the government building, as previously reported, demanding that the executive find a solution for more than a thousand of the company’s workers who lost their jobs about five months ago when the company ceased operating due to an energy crisis. A swift solution was promised to them in a meeting they had with the representatives of the ruling party’s parliamentary group during the protest.
  • Dozens of former physical security service workers of the Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEC) gathered in a protest march staged by the Union “Protection and Security”, demanding the reactivation of the Department of Physical Security in KEC. They had asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister and MPs. The workers’ union also announced plans to strike if their demands were not met.
  • The Road Passenger Transport Association filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Infrastructure, disputing the latter’s decision to set a 50% discount on inter-urban traffic ticket prices for children, students, war invalids and pensioners. The Association demanded the Ministry revoke its decision within 72 hours since, according to them, it stands contrary to the principles of the free market. They pledged not to implement the decision because they have neither been subsidised by the Government nor excluded from a fuel excise tax and threatened to protest. On the other hand, the Ministry of Infrastructure took that decision after inter-urban traffic ticket prices were hiked following a rapid increase in fuel prices. Nevertheless, the decision was revoked a week later by the Ministry after an agreement with the Association, according to which there will be no increase in ticket prices for the abovementioned categories. The lawsuit was also withdrawn by the Association.
  • Doctors and nurses of the Family Medical Center in Skënderaj protested after a case of physical assault was opened against the emergency medical staff by a patient attendant. Under the slogan “Stop the violence”, they called upon law enforcement bodies to handle the case with priority.
  • Collective for Feminist Thought and Action drew graffiti messages on the walls of certain public institutions demanding jobs, security and well-being for about 1,500 pregnant women who were dismissed from work in 2021. “Jobs for women, not subsidizing reproduction”, “+1500 women unemployed, where is the social democratic state?” and “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer”, were some of the messages written by the Collective's activists.

Marches staged aiming at raising awareness for various causes

  • Dozens of citizens marched in the squares of Prishtina with the motto “Walk on my shoes”, marking World Down Syndrome Day. Under the slogan “Do not prejudice me”, they marched to raise social and institutional awareness of the barriers faced by people with Down Syndrome. On this occasion, citizens bought postcards, candles, bags and photos made by people with Down Syndrome, which were exhibited in “Zahir Pajaziti” square. The President of Kosovo, MPs and other political figures joined the march, while the Government of Kosovo has declared 2022 the year of people with disabilities.
  • Under the slogan “Walk with me, every step counts”, citizens, activists and representatives of public institutions marched in the squares of Prishtina to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

Actions held by Social Democratic Party

Activists of the Social Democratic Party held an action in front of the government building calling upon the executive to intervene urgently in mitigating the impact of increased prices of essential goods. This comes after citizens flocked to supermarkets to panic buy oil after prices doubled in a day and rumours circulated that there would be limited stock. The Market Inspectorate and other relevant institutions fined several supermarkets and closed several warehouses on allegations of generating artificial hikes in the prices of basic goods. Nevertheless, Kosovo has been hit by the global wave of inflation mainly affecting fuel and essential goods prices caused largely by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

SDP members gathered inside the building of the Energy Regulatory Office (ERO) asking its board to make public the decision to increase electricity prices. Specifically, those who purchase electricity of 800 kWH and more will not be subject to an increase.13 activists were arrested and have been prosecuted, while four police officers were injured. According to the Kosovo Police, the intervention came after the SDP activists disregarded requests to vacate the offices, and persistently stayed inside for more than four hours, preventing officials from performing their duties.

On the first anniversary of the Kurti Government, activists of the Social Democratic Party held an action in front of the government building claiming that the executive is disregarding citizens’ everyday problems.

On another occasion, activists of the SDP held an action in front of the Ministry of Agriculture calling upon the Government to intervene with emergency subsidies for farmers amid the increased cost of land cultivation. In a symbolic act, they brought an agriculture plug, claiming that the agricultural machinery and tools will remain useless if the Government does not support the farmers.

In a separate action in front of the government building, activists of the SDP placed a placard describing the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, a fake war veteran. According to the SDP’s Chairman, Dardan Molliqaj, Kurti was not engaged in the Kosovo Liberation Army until the end of the war, which is a precondition to receiving the status of a war veteran. In this regard, they filed criminal charges against the Prime Minister. The Social Democratic Party is a non-parliamentary political party which consists of a group of former members of the Self-Determination Movement (the party in power and led by the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti). After the breakaway from the Self-Determination Movement and a failure to win any seats in the national elections of 2019, the SDP has entirely focused its actions on continuous opposition solely towards the Self-Determination Movement, and in particular its leader, Albin Kurti.

Other protests in the reporting period

  • As previously reported, dozens of citizens protested under the motto “Not a single cent more” against the increased electricity prices. “We don’t pay for KEDS”, “Electricity is not a luxury” and “Return KEDS to Kosovo” were some of the protest slogans.
  • On Teachers’ National Day, activists of the NGO “Global Shapers Prishtina” protested in front of the Ministry of Education and the United Union of Education, Science and Culture of Kosovo. Under the slogan “Quality in education”, they demanded reforms in the education system, commencement of a vetting process, more clinical psychologists and increased security in schools, as well as the introduction of career counselling courses for students.
  • Kosovo Serbs protested in North Mitrovica and Graçanica against the Kosovo Government’s refusal to allow the organisation of Serbian elections in Kosovo municipalities with a Serb majority, due to take place on 3rd April 2022. They also demanded the reversal of the decision to suspend the Kosovo Serb Supervising Judge of the Zubin Potok Branch of the Basic Court of Mitrovica, who was suspended after participating in a meeting of the Security Council of Serbia, a practice that directly violates the Constitution of Kosovo. As previously reported, Serbia still considers Kosovo as part of its territory and intended to use the elections as a symbolic means of exercising its sovereignty over Kosovo. On the other hand, the Government of Kosovo gave Kosovo Serbs the option to vote through the post office or Serbian Liaison Office in Kosovo, but these options were not accepted by Belgrade.
  • A solo protest was marked in the reporting period when a citizen protested in front of the government building against hikes in essential goods and fuel prices. He also blamed traders for hiding products and generating artificially increased prices.

Expression

A positive development

Journalists, photojournalists, cameramen and editors of the media outlets licensed by the Independent Media Commission, as well as online media workers registered in Kosovo’s Written Media Council, have been included as a beneficiary category in the Law on Free Legal Aid, adopted by the Assembly of Kosovo on 25th February 2022. This legal change means that if journalists are fired, prosecuted, sued for defamation or face lawsuits, they will receive free legal services and representation in court by the Free Legal Aid Agency. This legal change marks a positive development that further enables the exercise of the freedom of expression and improves the environment for journalists.

Fake news related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine published by media outlets

Kallxo.com, a member of the International Fact-Checking Network that monitors media outlets publishing in the Albanian language, has detected that many media outlets in Kosovo have fallen prey to fake news, manipulated photos and propaganda videos related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and have published these without first identifying their origin. Fake news related to the conflict in Ukraine has become global, with sequences from various movies presented as events from the war in Ukraine, and “deep fake” videos, where the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appears to announce a national surrender. Furthermore, with the aim of protecting the public from fake news and propaganda over the conflict, the Kosovo Independent Media Commission has decided to temporarily ban all broadcasting distribution operators originating from the Russian Federation.

Kosovo’s Independent Media Commission and Buletini Ekonomik face cyber attacks

Kosovo’s Independent Media Commission (IMC) has not yet fully recovered its internal system which was subject to cyber-attacks weeks ago, resulting in the loss of data, access to official email addresses, and disabled electronic services. The perpetrators of cyber-attacks are still unknown, while the police have ruled out chances of a Russian cyber-attack. IMC serves as the media regulatory body and is responsible for the management and oversight of the broadcasting frequency spectrum in Kosovo.The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) condemned the cyber-attack on the Buletini Ekonomik online portal’s Facebook pages. AJK has called upon competent authorities to prioritise the case and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Incidents against journalists

  • On 21st Februay 20221, a cameraman was physically attacked by the owner of a bar in Prishtina after a team of RTV Dukagjini was initially obstructed from performing their duties and reporting on the declaration of revenues at the Tax Administration of Kosovo. The perpetrator was arrested by the Kosovo Police, while the Association of Journalists of Kosovo condemned the physical attack, stating that cases like this “increase the insecurity of journalists in their daily work”.
  • On 21st March 2022, the AJK denounced the language used by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff toward certain media outlets in a Facebook post. The latter stated that certain media outlets are being used to blackmail the government and manipulate public opinion through fake news, which makes them similar to criminal businesses generating profit from clicks. He called upon citizens to ignore and unfollow these kinds of media. The AJK stated that denigrating language like this “endangers the safety of journalists and aggravates the climate of doing journalism in the country”.
  • In April 2022, journalist Diamant Bajra from Gazeta Blic received threats on his life from a fake profile on Tik Tok after he posted a sequence from his last TV show in which he had reported on the circulation of counterfeit money in Kosovo. The AJK denounced the threats toward the journalist, while the Kosovo Police opened an investigation into the case.
  • The AJK denounced the decision by the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) to hold the Electoral Assembly for the President of the Federation behind closed doors. Journalists and the media were not allowed in, with the excuse of limited space inside the Assembly. The AJK stated that decisions like this hinder professional reporting on important events of public interest, such as the election of the FFK's President.

Report on social media and 2021 local elections

Democracy for Development (D4D) published the report “Monitoring of the Declaration of Conduct on social media during local elections 2021”, whose findings show that the public discourse during the local election process was dominated by hate speech. D4D monitored articles posted on social networks by political parties, candidates and the media. Articles containing insults, harsh and sexist language, hate speech and false, manipulated, fabricated and exaggerated information were detected during the monitoring of both rounds of the 2021 local elections. Meanwhile, defamatory and humiliating speech was detected, in particular against women candidates. Representatives of political parties, non-governmental organisations and media outlets in Kosovo signed the Declaration of Conduct before the commencement of the election process, pledging to refrain from posting inaccurate, negative, and discriminatory content on social media networks.