Kosovo also needs commission to probe murders of journalists

Light is yet to be shed on 13 cases of journalists killed in Kosovo from August 1998 to 2005.

Senka Vlatkovic Odavic Source: insajder.net, B92
(Thinkstock)
(Thinkstock)

Representatives of journalists' associations gathering both Serbian and Albanian journalists think that the formation of a commission for investigation of murders of journalists in Kosovo could help find the evidence and initiate legal processes in these cases.

The problem is that, in these cases, nothing has been done, so the basic data also differs. Thus, the data on the number of those killed has not been harmonized. While EULEX has in its database 11 registered cases, journalists' associations have registered 12, and the OSCE has arrived to 13 from relevant sources. This data was presented at the OSCE conference dedicated to safety of journalists in South Eastern Europe.

First UNMIK, then EULEX were in charge of investigating the murders, while in the meantime these cases fell under the jurisdiction of the local police and the prosecution. As those in charge of the cases changed, there has been no evidence, and therefore nobody has been indicted.

The head of EULEX Alexandra Papadopoulou said that this mission has not received sufficient evidence in order to shed light on the cases of journalists who have been killed.

"We are talking about the cases that EULEX inherited from UNMIK and we have no evidence. I urge anyone with information to submit it to us. Most of these cases have been suspended, but can be relaunched if evidence is found," said Papadopulo.

The Kosovo police have no other information, either, said Deputy Police Director Naim Rexha.

A commission to investigate murders like the one which has existed in Serbia since 2013 could be a model for the establishment of a similar body in Kosovo.

"There must be the political will to make this commission work," says Veran Matic, who chairs the Belgrade-based commission. He believes there is no ideal model, and that all these cases are specific.

"It should support the work of prosecutors and assist the courts," said Matic.

The establishment of a commission is needed in order to make any progress in these cases, think presidents of the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, Shkelqim Hysenaj, and of the Journalists' Association of Serbia in Kosovo Budimir Nicic.

"Instead of waiting for the evidence, it would be logical if they looked for it," said Nicic.

He enumerated the names of all the colleagues killed in Kosovo, explaining the phase of each investigation.

The oldest case is the abduction of Ranko Perinic and Djura Slavuj, who worked for Radio Pristina in August 1998. Nothing is known about their fate to this day. The last recorded case is the murder of Bardhyl Ajeti, a Bota Sot journalist, who was killed in June 2005.

New commission formed in Montenegro

A commission to investigate attacks on journalists in Montenegro was formed in 2015, but did not produce any results.

"On the day of the formation of the commission, half a kilogram of explosives was thrown at the editorial staff. That was a message that we can do nothing," said Mihajlo Jovovic, editor of Vijesti, and a member of the commission.

After numerous problems and failure to deliver the necessary documents, the organizational structure of the Montenegrin commission was changed, so that the head of the police's internal control is now a member.

Female journalist most in danger online

According to OSCE's data, female journalists are most often the target of attacks on the internet and on social networks.

"I wrote about extreme believers, as part of a research project. Then the threats began. They took a picture of my son from Facebook - he was dressed as Spiderman - and said that my child was wearing a devil's costume. Not only was this post terrible, but also the dozens of comments below it. I was declared to be an anti-Muslim woman, I began receiving threats that mentioned my son. The child had to change schools four times, because they knew his every step and published it on the (social) networks, along with the threats. I was reporting everything to the police. But those who threatened us have never been found," said Arbana Xharra, a journalist and editor of Zeri.

She was the only one of the seven women journalists working in online publications from Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, who all recounted similar experiences.

All have in common also that the police and the investigating authorities did nothing to punish those who made the threats.

OSCE head addresses conference

The conference, held on January 14, was also addressed by the head of OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Jan Braathu.

Below is the full text of his speech:

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to see you all gathered here: President Thaci, Ambassador Pfandler, Ms. Apostolova, Ms. Papadopoulou, Ms. Izmaku, journalists and media professionals Kosovo-wide. I would like to express the sincere gratitude of the OSCE and partners for your participation in this conference.
Our topic here today is the safety of journalists.

It is a pertinent topic. Let me remind you that over fifty cases of attacks, threats and obstruction of journalists have taken place over the past two years in Kosovo. Several high profile cases, including the firing of shots at the offices of a news portal in the north of Kosovo, threats and attempts at intimidation against the public broadcaster, and a violent attack on a radio and television crew in Obiliq/Obilić, were sporadically covered in the news and did not draw sufficient reaction from the public.

Looking back further – by our count – thirteen cases of murdered journalists have taken place during and since the conflict. As most of these cases were not investigated and processed, perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. More worryingly, these cases are slipping into the mists of history as little is being done to uncover the truth and provide justice to the victims and their families.

Alongside physical violence; harassment, intimidation, illegal arrest and detention, lack of adequate working conditions all pose risks to journalists and hinder them from informing us in objective and unbiased ways. This concern is not unrecognized; the European Commission’s Progress Report on Kosovo has persistently identified the safety of journalists as a critical shortcoming that Kosovo ought to urgently address.

Part of addressing it is enhancing public awareness on these issues. For that reason, commencing with this conference, the OSCE Mission intends to embark on a Kosovo-wide “safety of journalists” campaign to raise awareness on the significance of enabling journalists to perform their work unfettered and without fear and intimidation. It should not require reiteration that journalists are the door to transparency and accountability. The information they provide acts as a catalyst for a more accurate and relevant civic discourse. If their ability to perform is curtailed, we risk upending the democratic foundations we have worked hard to establish.
I invite all here to put our heads together to come up with solutions on how we can deter threats to female journalists reporting online, how to go about solving cases of murdered and missing journalists during the conflict, and examine what more can be done to further the safety and protection of journalists in Kosovo and beyond.

Let me also use this occasion to applaud Ambassador Pfandler, on behalf of the OSCE Chairmanship, for recognizing this concern and for looking to shed light on this issue with the “Freedom of the Media in the Western Balkans” conference. Thank you for showing interest in this critical issue. I wish you all an engaging and thoughtful discussion, and I am eager to hear the ideas coming out of this discussion and to find ways to take them forward.

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