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13. 02. 2020.

Author: Jelena L. Petković ???source???: UNS

We are seeking justice for the killed and missing journalists in Kosovo

Dear families of our killed and kidnapped colleagues, dear colleagues, thank you for coming to presentation of the research of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia on killed and kidnapped journalists in Kosovo.

While performing their duties, from 1998 to 2005, 15 Albanian and Serbian journalists were killed, kidnapped and forcibly disappeared in Kosovo. A three-member German Stern news crew was also killed.

Shaban Hoti, part of the Russian State Television news crew, killed on 21 July 1998. 

Ismail Berbatovci, a journalist, left for a scheduled interview on 23 July 1998. To this day, the family does not know what happened to him. 

Đuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenić, journalists of Radio Pristina, disappeared on 21 August 1998 on the road near Rahovec/Orahovac.

Afrim Maliqi, Bujku journalist, killed on 2 December 1998 in Prishtinë/Priština.

Enver Maloku, head of KIC, killed on 11 January 1999 in Prishtinë/Priština.

Ljubomir Knežević, Politika correspondent and journalist of Jedinstvo from Prishtinë/Priština, disappeared on 6 May 1999 in Vushtrri/Vučitrn. 

Two journalists of Stern Gabriel Grüner and Volker Krämer and interpreter Sanol Aliti were killed at the Dulje pass (near Prizren) on 13 June 1999.   

Aleksandar Simović, journalist of Media Action International, killed on 21 August 1999.   

Krist Gegaj, editor at RTV Pristina, killed on 12 September 1999.

Momir Stokuća, photojournalist, killed on 21 September 1999 in Prishtinë/Priština.

Marjan Melonasi, a journalist of Radio Pristina, kidnapped on 9 September 2000.

Shefki Popova, journalist of “Rilindja”, killed on 10 September 2000 in Vushtrri/Vučitrn. 

Xhemail Mustafa, journalist of “Bota Sot”, killed on 23 November 2000, in Prishtinë/Priština.

Bekim Kastrati, journalist of “Bota sot’, killed in the village of Llaushë/ Lauša on 19 October 2001.

Bardhyl Ajeti, journalist and columnist of "Bota sot", attacked on 3 June 2005 in a village near Gjilan/Gnjilane, passed away on June 28, 2005.

The research we present today began when the Secretary General of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS), Nino Brajović, invited me in 2016 and suggested that we update the already existing UNS file on killed and kidnapped journalists in the territory of former Yugoslavia. It also continued and relied on the efforts of our colleagues at the UNS in Kosovo, who have been trying for years to find out what happened to our colleagues, and since 2012 they have been placing a plaque at the site where RTV Pristina journalists - Ranko Perenić and Đuro Slavuj - disappeared, persistently repeating - We are looking for them!

At that time, we only had information about seven killed and kidnapped journalists and only some information about the circumstances under which these crimes occurred. In response to our intention to find out what happened to the investigations into the killings and disappearances of our colleagues, we came to the devastating conclusion that there were no attempts at effective investigating of Albanian and Serbian journalists cases. That is why today we do not know who the killers and kidnappers are. We know they are at large, unpunished. Only one, the killing of Shaban Hoti, was prosecuted before The Hague Tribunal. 

In the first texts published in the second half of 2017, we noted the ways in which investigations were hindered, highlighted the omissions and asked a number of questions to the competent authorities. From the date we started releasing our findings until the end of 2017, the number of initiated investigations in Prishtinë/Priština has increased from two to seven. Only then did Ranko Perenić's family receive a notification from EULEX that Perenić and Đuro Slavuj were “stopped on the road by an armed group of men with KLA signs, who threatened with weapons and took them in an unknown direction”. They were also informed that the investigation was closed in 2013.

The research included interviews with at least 200 interlocutors: relatives, colleagues, acquaintances and members of international missions, and thus, we obtained information that was not previously known to the public. 

Former head of the United States Diplomatic Observation Mission in Kosovo (KDOM) Shawn Byrnes said it appeared that in the region where Perenić and Slavuj were kidnapped Fatmir Limaj had the most influence, but that this overlapped with influence of KLA from the Pastrik zone, which was concentrated in Prizren, and that units controlled by Ramush Haradinaj also came to this site.

Milivoje Miki Mihajlović, former editor-in-chief of Radio Pristina and head of the Media Center in Prishtinë/Priština, also revealed that not long after the kidnapping, New York Times journalist Mike O'Connor saw a blue Zastava 128 car in Bela Crkva, by which Perenić and Slavuj went to work and the “Sonny” voice recorder they brought with themselves.

The UNS obtained information that the killing of Media Action International journalist and interpreter Aleksandar Simović Sima is the only killing and kidnapping of journalists investigated by EULEX as a war crime.

Through contacts with international institutions in charge or in touch with the rule of law, it turned out that they do not have, do not know where the documents on the killed and kidnapped journalists are, and do not know why this is so.

For some of the cases, we brought to UNMIK reference numbers of cases as recorded in their archive, but not even under these circumstances they have been able to find them. EULEX has claimed for nine years that it has no information about the kidnapping of journalists of Pristina’s Jedinstvo and Politika correspondent Ljubomir Knežević. Only after talking to former EULEX chief Alexandra Papadopulo, to whom we have presented our findings, the EU Rule of Law Mission, for the first time, acknowledges that they have information, but also informs us that they are no longer able to open investigations at that point. In short, instead of looking at the documents from the investigation, we informed them that they had the documents we were looking for.

The UNS also obtained information that also indicates the crime of obstruction of justice. Police supervised by UNMIK have not acted on prosecutors' requests in the investigations of cases of two prominent Albanian journalists. The information we have obtained indicates that during the investigation into the killing of journalist Shefki Popova, the competent prosecutor twice sought emergency assistance and police assistance, but they ignored those requests. Similar situation happened in the investigation into the killing of journalist Bardhyl Ajeti.

UNMIK has done nothing to conduct an effective investigation into the kidnapping of Kosovo Radio Television journalist Marjan Melonasi. Police opened the investigation only five years later. And closed it immediately. 

We asked our interviewees - do you think it was accidental that so many investigations into the killings and kidnappings of prominent journalists were “lost” in the handover process? 

In interviews with representatives of KFOR, UNMIK and EULEX, we have found that none of these missions investigated the killings of Afrim Maliqi, Bujku journalist, Politika photojournalist Momir Stokuća and RTV Pristina editor Krist Gegaj. However, we also found that the killing of Momir Stokuća was reported to UNMIK police and the report "disappeared" from their archive. Also, that KFOR soldiers in fact found the killed Krist Gegaj.

In the texts published in 2018, we indicated to the public that the initial investigation into the kidnaping of Ljubomir Knežević, a journalist of Pristina's Jedinstvo and Politika, has been terminated. That there are witnesses to the kidnapping of Aleksandar Simović Sima, we presented new findings on the investigation into the killing of journalist Xhemail Mustafa, as well as the fact that KFOR has refused to submit documents to UNMIK about the investigation into the killing of journalist Enver Maloku. 

Thanks to the UNS initiative supported by colleagues from the Kosovo Journalists Association, the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia and SINOS, the Assembly of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) adopted a Resolution on investigations into the killings of journalists in Kosovo. At that time, the names of the killed and kidnapped fellow journalists and media workers, Serbs and Albanians, were placed on the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Journalist Security.

Today, we are talking about a new resolution to be proposed on the next Assembly of European Federation of Journalists in Zagreb, whereby EFJ would underline once more its determination to see start of investigations, and murderers and kidnappers of our colleagues be brought to justice. In addition, this research will also be presented to EFJ members, on the margins of this meeting. 

After UNS research was published, Government of Serbia took a decision to expand the competencies of the Commission investigating killings of journalists to include also cases of journalist who were killed or disappeared between 1998 and 2001.

In 2018, we also published discussions with heads of institutions with which the status of these investigations was verified. Drita Hajdari, War Crimes Prosecutor of Kosovo Special Prosecution Office, wondered how local prosecutors would compensate for what the international ones had failed to do. 

When the journalist Gabriel Grüner, photographer Volker Krämer and their interpreter Sanol Aliti were murdered, their colleagues from the German Stern started investigating and collecting evidence, and writing about the circumstances of the killing and the alleged murderer. Based on this information, on 16 March 2001, State Prosecutor’s Office in Hamburg issued an arrest warrant against the defendant Aleksandar T. due to emergency suspicions about killing and robbery. 

Tanjug team, journalist Nebojša Radošević and photographer Vladimir Dobričić Kića, were taken captive on 18 October 1998, after starting off for their journalist assignment in the vicinity of airport in Slatina, Prishtinë/Priština. KLA members held them in captivity for 41 days. They are the only Serbian team of journalists who survived captivity, and there was no investigation ever about this kidnapping.

Former UNMIK police investigators, prosecutors and judges used to declare for UNS that they considered journalists being a political target, and that no special attention was ever paid to these crimes within UN rule of law system in Kosovo. 

Kosovo Special Prosecution Office prosecutor and coordinator for cases of attacks against journalists, Bekim Kelmendi, called upon all citizens who had information related to kidnappings and killings of journalists in Kosovo to report them to this Prosecution Office or the investigators of Journalists Association of Serbia (UNS), guarantying protection of their identity. 

For three years in a row, Journalists’ Association of Serbia presented data from its research to the public and the majority of interlocutors, relatives, associates and friends of killed and kidnapped journalists, as well as officials, were asked to talk about this topic for the first time ever. 

With this research, the list of all killed and kidnapped journalists in Kosovo was finally compiled, and it was accepted by international organizations dealing with this issue. 

UNS texts in Albanian, Serbian and English were transmitted by media in Prishtinë/Priština, Belgrade and EU. I would like to thank all media, colleagues who showed their solidarity. What is crucial is that this research encouraged others to publish articles, broadcast stories and shows related to this topic. Our gratitude goes to OSCE Mission in Kosovo for the support provided. 

This research and the whole file are of special importance, as they will serve not only as a book of memory but also as a means to fight that the justice is served and it reaches perpetrators, criminals and ordering parties, so that the families of these journalists can finally take solace and get the truth they have been searching for. 

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