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05 Jun 09

Kosovo: NGOs Defend Freedom of Speech

Nongovernmental organizations concerned about freedom of speech in Kosovo have penned an open letter in response to a campaign against popular Kosovar journalist Jeta Xharra by an apparently government-sponsored newspaper.
In the open letter, released on June 4, nine NGOs and dozens of individuals expressed concern over the intensifying campaign against Xharra, who host’s BIRN’s (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) weekly current affairs program, “Life in Kosovo”, on RTK state television.

The Infopress tabloid newspaper, sponsored by government advertising revenues, has labeled Xharra a Serbian “spy” on Belgrade’s payroll because of the program, which has aired shows on controversial issues, including homosexuality and alleged atrocities committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and most recently, on freedom of speech.

On Thursday, Infopress appeared to issue a death threat against Xharra, commenting: "Jeta has brought it upon herself to have a short life."

Regarding the attacks on Xharra, the NGOs wrote: “The increasingly common practice of Infopress asserting that particular individuals are ‘Serb spies’ is becoming a disturbing issue.

“We, as citizens, are weary of flying accusations that certain people are ‘traitors.’ This practice, used by people who hold certain positions of power, which they use to label those who disagree with them as ‘traitors’ or ‘Serb spies’, has existed since the 1990s.

“We know that such labeling is used because the responsible persons cannot ably defend their position through sound arguments.”

The open letter also suggested that the campaign against Xharra could be viewed as an attack by the government, which, according to BIRN has been trying to force “Life in Kosovo” off the air.

“Who controls Infopress is not much of a secret. It is a newspaper supported by the government, as illustrated by numerous pages of advertisements it gets from the government,” according to the letter.

Infopress targeted the current affairs show in what the open letter referred to as “poorly argued editorials” after BIRN and the BBC released a report detailing information about the alleged mistreatment of civilians in Albania by the KLA, and after “Life in Kosovo” aired, on May 31, an expose on freedom of speech featuring the town of Drenica in the Skenderaj municipality. In the second case, BIRN journalists were physically threatened.

“The media has a right to report with facts on stories, and ‘Jeta ne Kosova’ (“Life in Kosovo”) together with BIRN have been striving to disclose facts about important stories affecting our lives and in accordance with professional journalistic standards. They are daring to speak out about issues for which many citizens fear to speak openly, due to the same sorts of threats that persons in positions of power from Drenica made,” the NGOs wrote.

On June 3, the international community’s top envoy to Kosovo, Pieter Feith, also spoke out in defence of the "Life in Kosovo" TV programme.

"I have the highest regard for the programme and I welcome the scrutiny of my own activities that the ‘Life in Kosovo’ programme undertakes," Feith, the International Civilian Representative and the European Union’s Special Representative in Kosovo, wrote in a letter to BIRN’s governing body.

The nine NGOs responsible for the open letter include:

Kosovo Law Institute
Youth Initiative for Human Rights
Fol 08 (Speak Up 08)
Kosovo Women's Network
Prishtina Institute for Political Studies

The following individuals have signed the open letter on freedom of speech in Kosovo:

Ariana Qosaj- Mustafa, Ardian Latifaj, Nazlije Bala, Nita Luci, Burim Ejupi, Driton Selmanaj, Haki Abazi, Kushtrim Palushi,  Engjellushe Morina, Elmaze Gashi, Elife Krasniqi, Veprore Shehu, Vjosa Dobruna, Adem Gashi, Afije Gashi, Vesa Sahatciu, Shqipe Kurti, Arben Kelmendi, Nicole Farnsworth, Arta Avdiu, Faton Mikullovci, Aida Derguti, Shpend Ahmeti, Kreshnik Berisha, Ardiana Gjinolli Ahmeti, Visar Berisha, Agron Demi, Ilir Hoxha, Karmit Zysman, Linda Abazi-Morina, Zana Hoxha-Krasniqi, Blerim Krasniqi, Iliriana Bajraktari, Jehona Lushaku, Eli Krasniqi, Shadija Ahmetaj, Leonora Kryeziu, Valbona Tahiri, Shirine Morina, Besnik Leka, Geziom Visoka, Kushtrim Shaipi, Rand Angel, Lara Cork, Blerim Bytyqi, Agron Syla, Albin Matoshi, Albina Berisha, Ylber Beqiraj, Dorina Elshani, Baton Neziri, Dardan Cadraku, Fjolla Cavolli, Merita Heta, Arta Rama, Shukrije Gashi, Luan Dalipi, Driton Dalipi, Ardian Jashari.



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