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news 07 Jun 17

Kosovo Coalition Divided over Criminalising Defamation

The largest coalition campaigning in the Kosovo elections is divided over a controversial proposal to reintroduce criminal penalties for defamation.

Die Morina
BIRN
Pristina
Milaim Zeka at the BIRN Kosovo election debate. Photo: Atdhe Mulla

A draft law to recriminalise defamation, proposed earlier this year and strongly opposed by journalists and civil society groups, has divided candidates from the coalition between the Kosovo Democratic Party, PDK, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK and the Initiative for Kosovo, NISMA, which are running together in the June 11 polls.

AAK candidate Muharrem Nitaj cautioned that any such move should be examined carefully before being implemented.

“Defamation currently is not a criminal offence, so to be added to the criminal code as such, initially there should be a public debate and consent from interest groups, journalists' associations and others,” Nitaj told BIRN.

But his coalition partner Milaim Zeka, a journalist who is running for NISMA, told a BIRN Kosovo election debate on Saturday that he supports the idea of recriminalising defamation.

“Absolutely, according to the standards of Germany,” Zeka said.

The draft law proposed jail sentences for insulting the flag and national anthem and for defaming top politicians. Kosovo decriminalised defamation in 2012, and it is now considered a civil issue.

The draft law to recriminalise defamation was introduced by Justice Minister Dhurata Hoxha of the Democratic League of Kosovo, PDK party.

However the PDK did not respond by the time of publication to BIRN’s question about whether it still supports such legislation.

PDK representatives are also refusing to participate in the BIRN election debates, as they want three times more minutes in election TV debates than representatives of the opposition Vetevendosje party and one-and-a-half times more airtime than the coalition between the LDK and the Alliance New Kosovo, AKR.

Zeka’s stance was supported by two other participants in Saturday’s debate, Qazim Rrahmani and Asllan Kryeziu from the Ashkali Party for Integration.

A parliamentary candidate from the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, Albulena Haxhiu, said that according to European standards, defamation is not a criminal offence and it will not be if her party comes to power.

Vjosa Osmani, a candidate from the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, said that her party has always been against the criminalisation of defamation.

“We are for [the law] remaining as it has been so far,” Osmani told BIRN.

Justice Minister Hoxha had to withdraw the proposed draft law in April after NGOs, including the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, condemned amending criminal code articles 134/C and 134/D.

Under the proposed changes, Article 134/C envisaged that “anyone who publicly... expresses contempt for the Republic of Kosovo or for its constitutional order, insults the colours, flag, seal or the anthem of the Republic of Kosovo, is punishable by up to three years of prison or a fine”.

Article 134/D meanwhile envisaged that anyone who defames a constitutional body, including the president, parliament, government and the Constitutional Court, could be punished with three months to five years of imprisonment.

 

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