Kosovo Urged to Protect Journalist after Death Threats

Leonard Kerquki during a TV appearance. Photo: screenshot.

Media freedom campaigners condemned death threats made against tabloid editor Leonard Kerquki after he directed a television documentary on wartime crimes against Kosovo Serbs.

by Die Morina, BIRN, Pristina

International media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday called on the Kosovo authorities to protect Leonard Kerquki, editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper Gazeta Express, after a television documentary he produced about crimes against Serbs attracted a series of death threats.

“We condemn this public lynching of Leonard Kerquki and we call on the authorities to quickly adopt measures to protect this journalist and his colleagues,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said in a statement.

“We also call for an investigation with the aim of identifying those responsible for these threats and bringing them to trial,” Morillon added.

The latest edition of Kerquki’s Zona Express programme, broadcast on October 23, addressed crimes against the Kosovo Serb population and the role played in them by former Kosovo Liberation Army members.

“The day after it was screened, a photomontage of Kerquki with his forehead riddled by bullet holes in Serbian colours was posted on the Facebook page of the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The OSCE mission in Kosovo and the Association of Journalists of Kosovo also condemned the threats against Kerquki.

“Freedom of expression must be upheld and respected in all circumstances,” Jan Braathu, the head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, said on Tuesday.

The Association of Journalists of Kosovo said that it was “intolerable” that Kerquki and others working on the programme had received “hundreds” of death threats after the broadcast of the weekly show.

However, a day after broadcasting the show, Kerquki’s newspaper Gazeta Expressapologised 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.

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.

Kerquki’s Gazeta Express has also been involved in some campaigns against journalists who have reported on the issue.

The daily, owned by Berat Buzhala, a former member of Kosovo’s ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, has also attacked its political opponents from the opposition Vetevendosje [Self-Determination] party and independent media.

In July 2015, BIRN reported about a lucrative contract to supply material for Kosovo’s controversial one-billion-euro Pristina-Tirana highway that was quietly given to a company closely linked to the PDK party and Gazeta Express owner Buzhala.

A month later, after BIRN Kosovo published a report that revealed how Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa awarded a public tender to fix government cars to a company owned by his own son, Gazeta Express targeted Faik Ispahiu, the executive producer of BIRN Kosovo TV show ‘Jeta ne Kosove’, with a series of critical articles.

After Ispahiu posted a picture on social media of himself with the Serbian and Albanian Prime Ministers, Aleksandar Vucic and Edi Rama, at a forum in Vienna, Gazeta Express said it revealed that Ispahiu was a Serbian spy.

It also accused him of collaboration with journalists from Serbia and described BIRN Kosovo as a Serb-run, anti-Kosovo organisation.

In 2013, Gazeta Express ran an article calling on Fisnik Ismaili, an MP from Vetevendosje, to distance himself from his father, who it claimed had worked with late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

In 2015, the newspaper also accused Ismaili of denouncing Kosovo’s independence and stating that it is part of Serbia.

In March this year, Vetevendosje MP Albulena Haxhiu sued Gazeta Express and other Kosovo news portals for 1.5 million euros for publishing stories that said she hid a tear gas canister in her genitals in order to smuggle it into parliament.

The article was originally published by Balkan Insight on 27 October 2016. It is republished here with permission.