Illustration: Jete Dobranja/PI.

An assault on freedom of expression

President Thaci’s nonchalant justification of his security team’s violent handling of protestors exposes his intentions to mute dissident voices, and is a direct attack on civil liberties.

The Godfather of Kosovo’s newly elected government, President Hashim Thaci, held a press conference outside the Kosovo Parliament on Wednesday.

While Thaci excitedly addressed journalists about the realisation of his plans to form a new government, in the distance one of the few protestors gathered outside expressed his discontent, shouting: “Thief! Thief!”

Thaci’s security team reacted immediately. They hopped the fence separating the parliament from the street, and two bodyguards aggressively detained the protester, who was later identified as Veron Hasani. 

The whole incident was recorded by an IndeksOnline journalist, who was himself aggressively confronted by a member of the security team. His footage captures a third bodyguard assaulting another citizen who questioned why Hasani was being arrested, and the shock of passersby at what they were witnessing.

Under Kosovo’s Criminal Code the actions of Thaci’s security team can easily be defined as both an assault and an unlawful deprivation of freedom, and the episode represents an attack on both the rule of law and freedom of expression.

The most serious crime Hasani could be accused of is public insult, which is provided for under the Civil Law against Defamation and Insult, and should in no circumstances result in an arrest, let alone assault. 

Following the incident, Hasani was treated at the University Clinical Centre of Kosovo for his injuries, and announced that he would be filing a lawsuit against those who assaulted him.

Instead of distancing himself from these unnecessary and violent actions, the Kosovo president later glorified his security team’s behaviour, describing the response as an “excellent reaction” and “light” in an interview with T7. “He is an activist of [Albin] Kurti,” Thaci said nonchalantly, adding that he prefers to strike first before being attacked.

This is not only unacceptable language from a Kosovo president, it is also not true. The bodyguards were the aggressors in the incident, and the protest was being held far from the location of the press conference in a public space.

The president’s language encourages police brutality, urges the suppression of dissident voices and is a stark warning of what the president described as “zero tolerance” on Wednesday night. Thaci’s behaviour exposes the absolute power that he believes he holds, and state institutions must respond immediately to ensure the rule of law.

The Prosecution and Police Inspectorate must urgently take steps against Thaci’s security team, while society must unite to condemn the language of the president, which is growing more authoritarian by the day. 

On Wednesday, this rhetoric was brutally manifested against a person who merely expressed different views, and was attacked for exercising his right to express himself freely. If we do not speak out, he will not be the last.

Illustration: Jete Dobranja.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

04 June 2020 - 10:12

Labinot Leposhtica

04/06/2020 - 10:12

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Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.