Kosovo: Documentary on war crimes leads to death threats against newspaper editor

by Ana Ribeiro

Leonard Kerquki, editor of Kosovar newspaper Gazeta Express, has allegedly received hundreds of death threats after screening a documentary he co-produced on an underreported aspect of the Kosovo War of the 1990s.

Leonard Kerquki Leonard Kerquki, editor of Kosovar newspaper Gazeta Express (photo: private/facebook)

The film deals with crimes "against Serbian and Bosniak minorities" and the possible role the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) played in them. Leading political figures in Kosovo are connected with the now dismantled militant group made up of ethnic Albanians.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the day after the 23 October broadcast on the programme Zona Express, a Facebook fan page for the KLA gave a graphic show of intimidation against Kerquki. It published a photo illustration of the journalist’s forehead pierced by bullet holes in Serbian colours.

Artan Haraqija, part of the team of three journalists who made the two-part documentary, told the ECPMF that Kerquki was its author and narrator. Therefore, Kerquki is seen as its face and has been the primary target for threats and other aggressive comments. Haraqija said the remarks spilled from social media into open hostilities in the streets of the Kosovar capital of Priština, where Kerquki "was yelled at and spat on."

He said Kerquki is currently visiting family out of the country.

Gazeta Express and Kerquki have landed in hot water before for political reporting: This includes a case where a member of the Kosovar parliament sought damages for a story claiming she had hidden a tear gas canister in her genitals to smuggle it into the assembly.

Scars from the Kosovo War

Media freedom organisations such as RSF, the International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) and the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK) have publicly condemned the threats against Kerquki and called for authorities to protect him. His latest case represents the tip of the iceberg in a very sensitive and complex political issue in Kosovo, which declared itself independent in 2008.

Leading up to and during the Kosovo War, the KLA took up arms against Serbs to fight for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Forces under the government of Slobodan Milošević retaliated with attacks on Kosovar Albanians. The KLA disbanded after the United Nations sent in a post-conflict peacekeeping mission, but its members remained a strong force in Kosovar politics, some forming political parties. 

Gazeta_express Gazeta Express (By Source, Fair use, Link)

While the Serbian government called for the KLA officials to be convicted as war criminals, international prosecutors could not prove the militant group had specifically targeted civilians. After some trials over the years, its former high-ranking officers generally walked free; they also came to assume top posts in the Kosovar government. Examples include Ramush Haradinaj, Agim Çeku and Hashim Thaçi, all of who became prime ministers of Kosovo; and Fatmir Limaj, former minister of transportation and telecommunications and current head of the political party Initiative for Kosovo.

In connection with Kerquki’s incident, Gazeta Express has "apologised to MP and former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Fatmir Limaj and his family for what it admitted was incorrect reporting about his case in the show," the Balkan Transitional Justice portal says. It adds that "Kerquki is the most recent in a line of Kosovo journalists and public figures to receive threats after publicly questioning the role of Kosovo Liberation Army in crimes committed during the war in the late nineties."

"No real experience with democracy"

The international media have largely focused on the killings of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo War, which outnumbered those of Serbs. But "'how can you compare someone’s life in numbers?", Haraqija asked. The team of reporters, who regularly produce documentaries on different topics, felt that "after 17, almost 18 years, it was about time to say something" regarding the killings of 1200 civilians on the Serbian side, believed to be connected to the KLA.

We need to talk about it, even though the topic is sensitive. We are journalists.”

Haraqija himself has suffered intimidation while trying to do his job as an investigative journalist, covering political and social topics in the Balkans (not only related to the KLA). Kosovo has "no real experience with democracy," he said; but this is an observation he also makes for the rest of the Balkans.  

In April 2016, Haraqija, Kerquki and another colleague were arrested in Skopje, Macedonia while working on a documentary regarding a conflict between the Macedonian army and ethnic Albanians. He said he still does not know why, with police simply having told him they needed a special permit to film the parliament.   

People in the Balkans are still learning how to live in an environment where opinions may differ but should be tolerated, since they were raised to believe whatever the state told them, said Haraqija.

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