Brave journalists, “family visits” and threats
Parim Olluri, one of the founders of the online media, Insajderi, known for investigative journalism, says that this media has published over 100 investigations since its establishment two years ago, revealing thus dozen cases of corruption affairs and other scandals. The publication of the investigations has been followed by threats that reached the peak last year, in August, when while he and his fiancé were returning home in the late hours, he was physically attacked by three people. The case was immediately reported to the police, but he is surprised that the police asked for the citizens’ help to identify the attackers.
“Many circumstances seem strange to me. Firstly, it has been five or six months now and even though Kosovo Police has videos and clear pictures of them, the attackers have not been identified yet. The state institutions also possess the data base of Kosovo’s citizens census. They can make comparisons and get to the results very quicky,” he says.
Although Olluri does not know which investigation specifically was the motive for the attack against him, he is certain that it has to do with his job as a journalist.
“Back at that time I published a lot of articles where many KLA commanders, now post-war corrupted businessmen, were included, so I think the attack was a reaction against those writings. Not only I, but Kosovo Police also considers the situation as dangerous, and unsafe. The fact that after assessing the level of the danger I was personally in, the police recommended carrying a gun with permission, shows that even the Police itself is not capable to ensure a free movement for everyone,” Olluri says.
A physical attack was not the epilogue of Saranda Rama’s recent experience, a journalist of Koha Ditore, a daily newspaper with considerable press run. This brave journalist, who has been dealing with investigative journalism for four years now, has been threatened many times for having published many scandals, but she never even dreamed that they would go so far as to convey their threats through her parents.
“They went to talk to my parents in the late hours of the night. They were strangers, my family and especially my parents had never heard of because I rarely talk to them about my job as they are not of this field. They told them that “whatever she has published until now is fine, but she should not report any more.” This was their order and they also left a visiting card. The visiting card belonged to a very important state institution- The National Audit Office. They left their phone numbers and told my parents that it was possible they would meet again.”
The motive why some individuals had “visited” her parents in the late hours was her finding that many irregularities and violations reported in the State Prosecution’s Initial Audit Report were not included in the final report. She says that there had been attempts even before to contact her through a third person, and that she was even offered a compensation in order not to publish her findings. However, she had insisted to have only an official meeting, in the Koha Ditore’s editorial office, which never happened.
“Based on the information I have, the party has pleaded guilty. Apart from that, he went a step further and confessed that the initial report was removed and the fact that he had found violations in the State Prosecution was changed and removed in the final report. This is a very good news because, according to the information I have, the police had a special official intelligence for this case saying that the Prosecution should start to investigate itself if it is involved in hiding the report.”
Over a month ago, the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo published its research on the journalists’ safety. Petrit Çollaku says that as opposed to the previous year of 2016, during 2017 the number of threats against journalists has increased.
“By the end of December we have recorded 24 cases while there are more than 30 filed cases in the police, however there are 24 in the data base, two out of which are physical attacks. While most of them are verbal threats, one was a property damage. The threats are either made through phone or conveyed to the journalist through other people. There are threats in Facebook and other social networks as well,” he says.
He says that only two cases have been solved until now -one dating back to 2014, and one to 2016, and that journalists expect greater efficiency of the security bodies, the police and courts.
“ It has been noted that this year the investigative journalism is being mostly attacked as with their presentations, articles and publications, they are mainly accusing, perhaps even those prominent, powerful figures wandering around here.” Çollaku says.
Parim Olluri thinks that the reason behind this is the establishment of many new online media, which as a consequence aggravates the rapport of the politicians and the journalists. The president or the prime minister cannot negotiate with, let’s say, 300 media to prevent the publication of an investigation, so they now solve their problems in the ground, in the street, Olluri says.
Saranda Ramaj considers the propaganda more dangerous than the physical attack:
“The interest groups in Kosovo are very powerful. They do not acknowledge any party or justice system which means that the justice system and parties operate in favor of the interest groups, not the other way around. And people from different parties belong to the same interest group. Unfortunately, these groups have bought a part of the media, mainly through commercials. They have created some sort of a mantle to keep themselves safe. These groups feel endangered by the smallest attack against them, because of a background, which I’d say is criminal. That’s why they initially try to pay and only a few of the media refuse. The media that do not get paid, are discredited and in case they cannot be discredited, someone comes out and attacks them,” she says.
The state prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi says that he has appointed a coordinator within the Office of State Prosecutor, who will monitor the work of other prosecutors, as well as a prosecutor in each of the Basic Courts of the larger municipalities, who will deal with cases when journalists are done injustice. Also, a data base has been opened to record all the acts against journalists.
“We assess the work of the coordinators and prosecutors who deal with these subjects according to our parameters and I can say that there has been a greater efficiency in dealing with these cases. Until now we have had 22 cases in which we investigated and pressed charges and then we sent those in the courts, while most of the cases are in the stage of gathering information or in the investigating procedure,” he says.
In the first days of 2018, The Association of Professional Journalists has recorded another threat against a journalist who wrote about a municipality official’s misuse of position in Gjilan. The Police has ordered the detention on remand of the official for 48 hours. The epilogue is not known yet but Çollaku says that the journalists seek justice and that the punishment policy should change. Otherwise, the message will be as follows: I threaten and beat a journalist and get a fine of 200-300 euros and then I’m released without any difficulty.