„The alarm signal sent by the wave of attacks against journalists in northern Kosovo must be taken seriously by Kosovo Police, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) before there is another tragedy. We urge them to carry out a rapid and thorough investigation into these attacks, and to take additional protective measures in coordination with associations of journalists representing the two ethnic communities.
The attacks against at least four crews of journalists since mid-November have come against the backdrop of a dispute over vehicle licence plates between the government of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and the government of Serbia, which refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence and wields political influence over the mainly Serb population in northern Kosovo.
The latest attack took place on 19 December in Zubin Potok, where a group of masked individuals insulted and threw stones at a Klan Kosova TV crew consisting of reporter Haris Ademi, cameraman Agon Bejtullahu and driver Elsad Sinani, who had come to cover the barricades that had been erected in this municipality. They were easily identifiable as journalists because their vehicle was displaying a “Press” sign.
On 10 December, an explosive device was set off near an RTV Dukagjini crew in the northern part of the city of Mitrovica while reporter Doruntina Bylykbashi was providing live coverage of the roads that had been blocked in the area.
The day before, two journalists with the anti-corruption website Kallxo.com – reporter Shkodrane Dakaj and producer Valdet Salihu – were attacked by masked individuals in North Mitrovica, although they were in a car displaying a “Press” sign. They had gone there to cover the deployment of Kosovo Police after 500 Serb police officers resigned. The two journalists managed to escape.
No one was injured in any of these three latest attacks, but Jetmir Muji, a cameraman with the news site Insajderi, had to be hospitalised on 17 November after he and reporter Visar Duriqi saw of a group of Kosovar school students being attacked by Serb-speaking individuals in North Mitrovica. Muji was himself attacked by one of the assailants when he approached with the aim of filming what was taking place.
Kosovo Police, which is known for conducting effective investigations into crimes of violence against journalists, opened an investigation into the injuries inflicted on Muji and one of the students.
RSF has learned that at least one media crew has been withdrawn from the field after their management decided the situation was too risky in the light of these attacks. These threats to the media call into question respect for press freedom and the right to information about events in this country, which underwent a war in 1999 and now hopes to join the European Union.
During a visit with other organisations to Kosovo on 15-16 November, RSF urged the authorities to establish a rapid alert mechanism for journalists who are attacked while reporting in the field, as the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK) has been requesting for several years. “The safety of all journalists reporting on developments in northern Kosovo is an area of serious concern,” RSF and the other organisations said in a joint statement at the end of the visit.
Kosovo is ranked 61st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
Pavol Szalai is the Head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk