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03. 11. 2014

Journalist "receives threats from EU Kosovo mission"

3.11.2014 (RWB, B92) - PRIŠTINA -- An investigative journalist with the Priština-based Albanian language daily Koha Ditore has "received threats" from EULEX, said Reporters Without Borders.

According to the organization, which issued a statement, Vehbi Kajtazi said he was "directly threatened by members of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) over his reports that senior mission officials were suspected of corruption."

Last week the newspaper "began running a series of articles on suspected corruption on the part of senior EULEX officials," said the statement, noting that "mission head Gabriele Meucci,told a press conference that the allegations would be pursued vigorously."

"Before publishing his stories, Kajtazi sought the mission's views on the information in his possession. In response, he was summoned to an interview with Kate Fearon, special adviser to the head of mission, who asked him to hand over the documents to EULEX if he wanted a response. Legitimately, he refused the request," said the Reporters Without Borders statement, and added that after Kajtazi said he "received threats originating from the higher echelons of EULEX" after the interview:

"The main advisor to the head of EULEX warned me that if I write about the case in question that I could be prosecuted."

Such behavior is a serious matter within an EU mission whose goal is to help restore the rule of law in Kosovo and establish respect for European democratic values, said the Reporters Without Borders statement, and quoted Secretary General Christophe Deloire as saying, "By putting pressure on an investigative journalist, the EULEX mission is acting contrary to all fundamental principles of the European Union regarding freedom of information."

"EULEX has lost a great deal of credibility and the mission has sent a highly negative signal to the local authorities. Why would they think twice about putting pressure on journalists from now on if the EU, which is supposed to be leading Kosovo along the path to democratic norms, thinks it can threaten them with prosecution?," he said.

The editor of Koha Ditore, Agron Bajrami, was quoted as saying his newspaper had previously received such threats, "but this was the first time in its history that they have been made by members of an international mission":

"We do experience these kind of threats from local politicians and institutions frequently. In few instances, there were also attempts from internationals to "negotiate" publications which they didn't like. But, I don't recall seeing an organized attempt from an international institution, an EU mission, to pressurize journalists to prevent publication go this far!"

According to Reporters Without Borders, EULEX spokeswoman Dragana Nikolic-Solomon gave the organization "a different version of events," saying she was "present during the interview and did not witness threats of any kind being made against the journalist":

"The mission met Vehbi Kajtazi in good faith in order to give more specific answers to his questions... His allegations of threats are incorrect. He was asked to hand over the documents in his possession so that (EULEX) could respond to his questions more appropriately."

According to Reporters Without Borders, "she spoke of 'a little bit of misunderstanding,' insisting that EULEX had no interest in preventing the publication of any articles and stressing that the mission's deep commitment to press freedom."

The statement noted that during a press conference, "EULEX representatives gave assurances that no proceedings had been launched against the journalist."


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