KOSOVO: Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation into opposition crackdown

“From the videos and photographs we have seen, it appears that the Kosovo Police used excessive force during the operation to arrest members of Vetevendosje in the party's offices...
Mr Kurti was arrested at his party's headquarters in Pristina [AFP]

Police in Kosovo have arrested a prominent opposition MP and 86 members of his party after he addressed a large anti-government protest on Saturday’s anti-government rally.

Armed officers clashed with supporters of the main opposition party, who tried to prevent the arrest of their leader Albin Kurti, in the capital Pristina.

Mr Kurti has led a series of protests in parliament against agreements made with Serbia.

Opposition MPs have paralysed the work of parliament for weeks, BBC reported. Prosecutors said in a statement that police had acted upon their order as Mr Kurti was suspected of committing three offences, including “endangering public order and the illegal use of weapons.”

Kurti has been leading opposition to the EU-brokered accord under which ethnic Serbs in the majority-Albanian country will get greater local powers and the possibility of funding from Serbia. He and his supporters also oppose a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

Kurti has repeatedly released tear gas, and once pepper spray, in parliament to disrupt proceedings. He has been arrested before, triggering riots in Pristina, REUTERS reported.

Prior to his arrest on Saturday, Kurti addressed several thousand people who gathered in Pristina for a peaceful protest against the accord. His party said in a statement that police had arrested more than 90 of its members, injuring some of them.

Police said four people including two police officers were hurt in the operation to arrest Kurti, accusing his supporters of attacking officers with chairs, tables and sprays.

Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation into actions by Kosovo Police, following the arrests and alleged ill-treatment of dozens of Vetevendosje activists on Saturday.

“From the videos and photographs we have seen, it appears that the Kosovo Police used excessive force during the operation to arrest members of Vetevendosje in the party’s offices on Saturday,” Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Balkans, told Kosovo 2.0.

“We are in the process of gathering further information, but would urge the authorities and the National Preventive Mechanism to immediately open investigations into the conduct of the police, and any individual allegations of ill-treatment received.”

On Saturday afternoon armed special police forces surrounded and raided Vetevendosje’s headquarters in an action that resembled a counter-terrorism operation. The police still haven’t confirmed whether they had an order from the prosecutor to carry out the raid. In addition to executing the arrest warrant for Vetevendosje’s deputy Albin Kurti, the police also announced that they had arrested 97 activists in total, both within the offices and on the streets.

In addition to Amnesty International, prominent human rights organisations within Kosovo have also expressed their concerns and condemned the police actions towards Vetevendosje activists. After monitoring Saturday’s events and conducting interviews with arrested activists at Prishtina’s police station and the QKUK emergency clinic, Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims [KRCT] said that the actions of Kosovo Police were unnecessary and disproportionate and that they could not be justified.

“Terrorizing citizen-activists through directing automatic barrelled weapons [at activists] and hitting and assaulting them with batons, and even with rubber bullets, punches and kicks, constitutes severe physical mistreatment,” read the KRCT statement. It added that these actions were a violation of legal provisions and international human rights acts that are applicable in Kosovo.

Kosovo 2.0 contacted the Ombudsman’s office in Kosovo, which said that it has been monitoring events and is in the process of gathering facts and testimonies, before releasing a report soon. Kosovo’s former Ombudsman, Sami Kurteshi, who joined Vetevendosje just a few days ago, was one of the injured activists and needed medical treatment at the QKUK emergency clinic.

The Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms [CDHRF] today published a report regarding Saturday’s events, which assesses the escalation as unnecessary after the peaceful protest. CDHRF concluded that the police intervention was a non-democratic action and that it does not correspond with basic human rights, freedom of speech or freedom of political organization. CDHFR appealed to the Kosovo Police Inspectorate not to wait for official reports into police actions but to instigate the process of investigation itself.

“In a situation where there has been large unrest with many injured [Kosovo Police Inspectorate] needs to react and investigate ex oficio (according their official task) and there were such cases [after] the last manifestation,” said the CDHFR report.

In contrast to the responses from human rights organisations, a joint-statement by the embassies of four out of five Quint countries [US, UK, France, and Italy — Germany did not sign the statement] praised Kosovo Police for its actions on Saturday.

“We are pleased that demonstrations have passed peacefully and would like to commend everyone, especially the Kosovo Police, involved,” read the statement.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 when NATO carried out 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency. NATO’s intervention eventually forced the Serbian Parliament to grant political autonomy for Kosovo, while keeping it within its territorial borders. It declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the major Western powers.

NATO still present

Serbian forces were pushed out of Kosovo by NATO bombing in 1999, and some 5,000 NATO troops are still stationed there in Kosovo, alongside several hundred EU police officers. Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed in 2008, remains disputed by Serbia. The country is also burdened by corruption and poverty, with the official unemployment rate at 50 percent.

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.

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.

The country is ranked of those ‘partially free’ at ‘Freedom House’s freedom index. Press freedoms and human rights are at its stake. Ninth suspicious death of a member of media personnel has occurred this October, whose perpetrators enjoy the impunity. EU Progress Report of 2015 qualifies its justice system with very low performance and highly influenced by outlawed forces.

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. THE Frontliner 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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