SU-PRO-MEDIA | 03.08.2018 12:05 > 03.08 12:11

Cases of Murdered and Missing Journalists – No Accountability

“… it has been twenty years since the start of a series of killings, kidnappings and ‘disappearances’ of fourteen Serbian and Albanian journalists in Kosovo with no one brought to justice for these crimes committed between 1998 and 2005.”
This is written, among other things, in the European Federation of Journalists’ (EFJ) Resolution on Investigations of Murders of Journalists, which was adopted unanimously at the EFJ Assembly in Lisbon early this past June.
The Resolution was submitted by the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (JAS), Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS), the Association of Journalists of Kosovo and the Journalists’ Union of Serbia.
According to the information gathered by the journalists' associations in Serbia and Kosovo, in the period between 1998 and 2005 eight Albanian and two Serbian journalists and media professionals were murdered, while five Serbian journalists are registered as "missing". In the meantime, the only case to have been solved was that of Shaban Hoti, murdered in 1998, who had led a Russian state television team. Fourteen cases have been opened since then.
What are the reasons why the perpetrators of these crimes remain at large almost two decades later?
Budimir Nincic of the JAS says that the biggest problem is the fact that several security systems of structures in Kosovo have worked on these cases.
"First we had UNMIK, then UNMIK passed it on to EULEX, then EULEX passed it on to the domestic prosecutor’s office, and now everyone is assigning responsibility to each other. EULEX to UNMIK – that UNMIK did not hand over all the information, the Kosovo prosecutor’s office to EULEX and UNMIK – that they did not conduct a timely investigation when the murders and the kidnappings happened, so we are now in a sort of vicious cycle with everyone passing the buck", says Nincic.
The OSCE Mission in Kosovo has over the past year strongly advocated the finding of perpetrators of the crimes against Kosovo journalists. Mission chief Jan Braathu recalls that even before UNMIK and EULEX, in 1998, there was a completely "different regime" which also did not produce any results in investigations. After so much time has passed, he believes that the Kosovo prosecutor’s office will have a very difficult job.
"I think that there is a will to work on these things. They are not saying that these cases are closed, they are open and they want to investigate them. But we must keep in mind the practical constraints, which would affect any case of a prosecution in any part of the world, after so many years", Braathu says.
The investigations were superficial, as illustrated by the fact that there were witnesses in several of the murder cases, as well as that the cases simply "vanished" after a while.
Bajrush Morina, former director of the Bota Sot daily’s Kosovo edition, close to late president Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic Alliance of Kosovo, says that besides his associate Xhemajl Mustafa, killed in 2000, Srbica correspondent Bekim Kastrati met the same fate in 2001, as did journalist Bardhyl Ajeti in 2005. There were two witnesses in Ajeti’s case, the mechanics who had been towing his broken down car.
"So, they were there at the time of the murder. They saw a vehicle without any license plates, a black BMW from which shots were fired, and they noticed that Bardhyl’s car had gone off course. They testified at the police station, but then both the testimony and the witnesses 'disappeared'", said Morina.
According to the JAS' information, Radio Prishtina journalist Marjan Melonashi disappeared without a trace after he got into an orange cab in 2002, while the investigation was not opened until 2005.
"Another case, when journalist Aleksandar Simovic went missing in 1999 from a café in downtown Pristina, after the arrival of the international forces in Kosovo, shows that none of those present at the time, not even the potential witnesses or kidnappers, were questioned. Nothing was investigated, even though there were witnesses there, who are mentioned in that report. No one was questioned, nothing was investigated. He was kidnapped and a year later his remains were found in a village near Glogovac. UNMIK conducted all those investigations superficially and it has all been stuck like that to this day", says Nincic.
The JAS branch in Kosovo has for years been calling for an effective probe into the cases of two of their colleagues, Djuro Slavuj and Slavko Perinic, who "disappeared" somewhere between Orahovac and Velika Hoca.
The memorial plaque placed on the site of their disappearance, which reads in Serbian and Albanian: "Our fellow journalists were kidnapped here on August 21, 1998, we are looking for them", has been damaged or removed six times so far. A new one was placed this past May.
"In that way we are fighting and reminding the authorities that we will never give up, until we get an answer to the question of where our collagues are and who is responsible for their kidnapping, because they were not there with a rifle or a uniform, they had a dictaphone, a notebook and a pen and were doing their job", said Nincic.
OSCE Mission chief Jan Braathu also attended the placement of the seventh consecutive memorial plaque.
"These journalists should not be forgotten. Their families are entitled to information about what happened to them, where their remains are and, of course, we hope that the perpetrators will be identified and prosecuted", said Braathu.
Bajrush Morina, now the director of the BotaPress online publication, believes that Bota Sot journalists were under constant threat after 1999, that they were followed by unidentified individuals, which led them to hire armed security. He says he will continue to seek institutional justice for his colleagues, but that he is not optimistic as to the possibility of the Kosovo prosecutor’s office achieving any results.
"The worst thing is that politics is meddling in the judiciary and it seems that politics is an integral part of this organized crime. Or elements of politics in Kosovo are involved in various forms of organized crime. That is why politics is preventing and has so far prevented investigations. It’s possible that one or two murders are not solved, but it doesn’t make any sense for absolutely none of the numerous murders after the war to be solved…", says Morina.
Budimir Nincic also thinks there is no political support for shedding light on the fate of the murdered and kidnapped journalists, but says he will not stop demanding that the identities of the killers and kidnappers be unveiled.
"… If they remain unknown, then that sends a very bad message to potential assailants, kidnappers and killers, that hunting journalists is permitted, that anyone can beat up, kill or kidnap a journalist and not answer for it", he says.
Jan Braathu says that political support is very important for a more effective investigation and adds that President Hashim Thaci is the only politician from an ethnic community in Kosovo who has voiced open support to the efforts toward reviewing the cases of murdered and missing journalists and proposed funding for the handling of those cases.
"… This is not an ethnic matter, this is a matter of crimes committed against journalists who were doing their job", says Braathu.
Braathu further says that the founding of a commission for missing and murdered journalists in Kosovo is under way and that publisher Veran Matic, who has headed or participated in similar commissions in Serbia and Montenegro, has been engaged to that end.
"The first task will be to review the available court documents, reports on the cases. Also, to submit requests for information from the governing bodies. Those requests may be sent to the officials and international organizations in Kosovo, but also in Serbia. We will see, it’s still early, we do not know what the end result will be", said the head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Jan Braathu.
Kosovo Chief Prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi claims that of the current 14 cases of murdered and missing journalists an investigation is under way in seven, three are in the process of being taken over from EULEX, one has been closed, while the prosecutor’s office has no information on three cases.


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