Kosovo Court trial for Press Freedom

The 120 days sentence imposed by the court neither reflected the gravity of the offence, nor the violation of the right of Vedat Xhymshiti to freedom of expression —...

Independent journalist and documentary photographer Vedat Xhymshiti, is not Kosovo, but a lawsuit which he had lodged three years ago, has begun to resound in the Municipal Court room of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

This week [Monday September 7], was held the third session of the court trial, since the first was launched in March during this year, three years after the submission of the claim by him and his solicitor on May 14, 2012, where two days later had to leave the country due to safety as it is also emphasized in the report of the US State Department for Human Rights and Freedom, published in 2012.

Vedat Xhymshiti

Independent Journalist and Documentary Photographer Vedat Xhymshiti [©THEFrontliner.net]

Demanding legal accountability from the Republic of Kosovo and the Ministry of Interior, which under the Constitution of the country should be held responsible for failure to provide a secure environment for legal activities legal and civil rights of citizens of the country, respectively media personnel, journalist Xhymshiti Suit was filed four months after the alleged premeditated assassination plot which, happened on 14 January 2012.

Previously quite significantly the Kosovo media would have ignored this matter, but this Monday wide country’s press had reported on the third session which, was held in Pristina.

“Soon it is expected to be decided whether the state has violated the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to photojournalist Vedat Xhymshiti. He, along with the campaign “Justice and the People,” has submited a civil suit against the Republic of Kosovo and the police in breach of the rights of journalists, KTV reports.

“Through this lawsuit, it is asked to ascertain whether there’s been any violation of a significant number of individual human rights guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as payment of compensation for damage resulting from this violation,” writes the daily Bota Sot.

“Xhymshiti sued for compensation the Interior Ministry, the government and the Republic of Kosovo, and today the Court in Pristina held hearings on this case,” among other reports news portal” Kallxo.com

Besides the report on the session, unlike other media, KTV journalist Arta Avdiu, broadcasted other examples of threats to media personnel while on their official duties in Kosovo, it visually offers uncontested evidence that there’s serious lack of human and professional education among the security personnel (ie police) in the country which, leaves much to be desired.

After the hearing, Artan Çerkini Vedat Xhymshiti’s solicitor commented over the course of the trial, saying:

“We hope that through this case we would create a judicial practice in Kosovo in which besides regular material and immaterial compensation, the courts will take a stand that will offset the damage resulting from the violation of the rights guaranteed by the constitution” he said, as regarding the development of this legal procedure, he said that it will educate the employees of state authorities, adding:

“Through this case I believe the state authorities, namely employees of state bodies will be aware and also will understand that their actions could cost the state budget,” lawyer Çerkini ended his statement, indicating that the lawsuit was constructed on the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

Faruk Ibrahimi, whose guilt was confirmed on December 1, 2014, by a local court in eastern Kosovo, but against which journalist Xhymshiti had appealed because he wasn’t pleased with the judgment, which requires police F. Ibrahimi to suffer 120 days in prison. The Court of Appeal in Pristina was supposed to hold yet another hearing on 3 March 2015 in Pristina regarding the appeal of journalist Xhymshiti, but that hearing was not held and Xhymshiti was not informed on the progress of his appeal anymore he told THEFrontliner.net

"The 120 days sentence imposed by the court neither reflected the gravity of the offence, nor the violation of the right of Vedat Xhymshiti to freedom of expression." — Amnesty International

“The 120 days sentence imposed by the court neither reflected the gravity of the offence, nor the violation of the right of Vedat Xhymshiti to freedom of expression.” — Amnesty International

Regarding the decision of the court of Kamenica, Kosovo’s southeastern regional branch court of Gjilan, to punish the officer with 120 days jail time, Human Rights and Freedoms organisation based in London “Amnesty International” told THEFrontliner.net:

Amnesty International UK believe that the charges against the defendant were inappropriate, in that they failed to take into account international standards on the use of force by law enforcement officers, including the UN basic principles, on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials.

Nor were the charges brought in accordance with the Kosovo Law on Police, which states that article 13 (3), that “A police officer shall not inflict, instigate, support or tolerate any torture act or inhumane or degrading treatment, under any circumstances and no issued order can justify any such action.

“Both International standards and Kosovo law, would have required a prosecution under article 198, of the Criminal Code of Kosovo for Mistreatment during Exercise of official duty or public authorisation, which at Para 1, require “An official person, in abusing his or her position, or authorisations, mistreats, intimidates or gravely insults, the dignity of another person shall be punished by imprisonment up to three (3) years” said Mrs. Sian Jones, Human Rights researcher for the Balkan region at ‘Amnesty International, London office, which has been observing Xhymhiti’s situation ever since 2011. Talking to THEFrontliner.net she also added this:

“The 120 days sentence imposed by the court neither reflected the gravity of the offence, nor the violation of the right of Vedat Xhymshiti to freedom of expression.”

A Kenyan cartoon over the press freedom violations from the Parliament.

A Kenyan cartoon over the press freedom violations from the Parliament.

While the Constitution of Kosovo and its legal framework assures guarantees for the freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the media environment in Kosovo continues to be affected by political interference, corruption and financial pressure. Concrete lack of international support to enforce the law in Kosovo undermines efforts to improve democracy and protect the political and civil rights, including freedom of the media in the country. International security forces in the country have failed to ensure freedom of movement for all citizens and institutional officials in Kosovo, the element that influences and contributed heavily ‘darkness’ information what is happening in Kosovo’s northern troubled region of Mitrovica, reports THEFrontliner.net

EU project to its mission for the rule of law with the Police and Justice, costs European taxpayers € 250 million, but EULEX has significantly failed to develop constitutional institutions and fight against corruption, and, additionally, EULEX staff quite often were found to be involved in criminal activities.

The violence against the media freedom had surfaced earlier below the feet of Kosovo Foreign Minister Hashim Thaçi, whose wartime nickname is ‘the snake’. In June 1997, in an incident that many individuals in the guerrilla movement identified as a ‘sinister’, a Kosovo-Albanian journalist who had close ties with the movement was found dead in his apartment in Tirana, “his face was marred by repeated stabbings with a screwdriver and at the end of his buttocks a broken bottle was found.” The New York Times reports.

Reporter Ali Uka, was supporter of the rebel movement, but he was also sufficiently independent enough to criticise the uprising. At the time of his death, he was living in an apartment with Hashim Thaçi which, is also identified as the ‘Big Fish‘ in the organised crime.

In the Kosovo post war era, there are around eight murdered journalists, among them three foreigners, two Germans and one Serb. Four years after Kosovo had declared its independence a freelance journalist was facing an attempted murder, whose first and only case (Vedat Xhymshiti) is on Court trial.

Ways and forms of pressure on media is increasing while the National Association of Journalists in Pristina is extremely weak due to a lack of willingness to act in defense of press freedom which, prompted journalist Vedat Xhymshiti to resign from his alignment as a member of the association, as they silently refused to rise voice in any concern regarding issues reported by him, as he specifies in a resignation statement himself.

Kosovo was once ranked 80th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom, but the crisis of freedom of the press is further deepening alighting Kosovo year-on-year to plunge the country seven places below, as it is placed into 87th this year, as a result of continued fundamental violations of press freedom and the freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by Article 40 of its Constitution.

Kosovo Coalition Cartoon — ©Jevon Mikullovci/KOHA

Kosovo Coalition Cartoon — ©Jeton Mikullovci/KOHA

After a conflict between Yugoslav forces of Serbia and Albanian rebels in 1999, NATO intervened with air strikes bombing Serbia for 78 days, in a bid to stop the massacre and ethnic cleansing of Serb forces against Kosovo Albanians, a violence, which had caused a wide rebellion in the region.

NATO’s intervention eventually forced the Serbian Parliament to grant political autonomy for Kosovo, while keeping it within its territorial borders. Nine years after the war, Kosovo declared its independence, but its status as the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, has been recognised only by the 111 countries of the 193 member states of the United Nations.

Kosovo is the poorest and most isolated country in Europe, with millionaires politicians steeped in crime. A third of the workforce is unemployed, and corruption is widespread. About two in three under the age of 25 are currently unemployed, and nearly 50% of the 1.8 million citizens of Kosovo are considered to be poor. During last December only, more then 200-thousands of Kosovars were forced to leave the country in an effort to find a better life, studies and more dignified jobs.

NATO files published in 2011 in international media, showed that the United States and some other Western powers who supported Kosovo’s government has extensive knowledge (for a few years!) of the criminal connections of former head of rebels and also PDK leader Hashim Thaçi and some members of other political parties in the country.

June elections 2014 marked also the death of two well known political activists; Elvis Pista an elected MP of ruling PDK, as well as the secretary of ‘Vetëvendosje Arbënor Dehari whose death went very silently. These unreported casualties resulted after the political tensions rose between the ‘opposition united coalition front’ and ruling PDK party in the aftermath of the elections.

Hundreds of youth Kosovar participate in various Middle Eastern armed conflicts. Vedat Xhymshiti’s findings suggest significant prove of allegations of involvement of state authorities to encourage them to join the ranks of armed groups involved in crimes and war crimes against humanity.

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