Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri (L) celebrates with teammate Granit Xhaka (R) after scoring the 1-0 lead during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 group G soccer match between Serbia and Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, 02 December 2022. EPA-EFE/LAURENT GILLIERON

Kosovo Activist Threatened After Criticising Football Player’s ‘Thuggish’ Gestures

Kosovo human rights activist received threats after she called famous Kosovo football player a "thug" for gestures against Serbian football players during the Qatar World Cup match between Switzerland and Serbia.

Kosovo human rights activist Zana Avdiu said she had received thousands of threats after condemning a gesture made by Granit Xhaka, a Kosovo Albanian football player for Switzerland’s national team, in the World Cup match against Serbia on Friday.

“There were thousands of messages, a large percentage of which were threats to my life and safety. Together with the lawyer Arianit Koci, we reported them to the police … Now we are waiting for the police and the prosecution to do their work,” Avdiu told BIRN.

She added that the threats she received directly followed other hate speech and threats sent via public comments and posts in social media.

Serbia was eliminated from the World Cup in Qatar after defeat by Switzerland 2:3 last Friday in a match marred by scuffles. Kosovo’s Football Federation, FFK, has asked FIFA to sanction Serbia for alleged anti-Albanian ethnic slurs from Serbia’s bench and fans.

During the match, Xhaka made gestures towards the Serbian players. Many praised him, but Avdiu wrote in her Facebook account: “Granit Xhaka’s act is shameful. Act of a thug”.

Critics said she was speaking out against one of the most celebrated sportsmen of Kosovo origin. More severe threats included threats of sexual violence and even of taking her life.

Avdiu says she had not encountered any violence yet in real life but has been harrassed while waiting her lawyer “in front of his office”.

“I have been photographed by some people in the bars in front of the office and provoked with different gestures. In some cases, some have stopped with their cars and shouted words against me. All of this happened from a distance, not physically, only verbally,” she said.

Avdiu’s status has received over 5,000 angry reactions.

During a TV show on Kosovo broadcaster T7 on Sunday, Xhaka’s father, Ragip, said: “Be careful what you say against our family… I will tell you what would happen next. You will answer for everything you say, in any way possible. But when she answers, it will be too late.”

Ragip Xhaka said her words had hurt his son. “We had over 20,000 raped women [in the Kosovo war]; he has tried to tell everyone in England that they [Serbs] raped Kosovar women, while he is now being called a thug. She is a bully … Zana Avdiu should be ashamed,” he said.

Avdiu told BIRN that, following the words of the football player’s father “the threats have increased more and have been much more aggressive”.

Civil society groups have called for prosecution of the hate speech against Avdiu.

“The virtual violence encountered by women participating in the public sphere is one of the growing forms of violence against women that remains unaddressed by public institutions,” Bind Skeja, director of the Center for Information and Social Improvement, QIPS, an NGO, wrote on his Facebook.

“|For all girls and women, the toleration of virtual violence is disturbing and oppressive, as it aims to discipline and silence them through incitement to hatred and threats of violence and murder.”

During the match, Kosovo-origin Swiss captain Granit Xhaka was the centre of attention twice over on-field incidents with Serbian players and staff. International media have reported that he could be at the centre of a FIFA investigation over the gesture.

It is not the first time Xhaka makes headlines for gestures during Switzerland’s matches against Serbia.

In the 2018 World Cup, held in Russia, FIFA fined two Swiss players, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, 10,000 Swiss francs [8,600 euros] for celebrating their goals against Serbia with a double-headed eagle gesture, symbolising the Albanian flag. Switzerland beat Serbia 2:1.

Xhaka, together with Xherdan Shaqiri who scored the first goal against Serbia on Friday, are both ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in war in 1999 and declared independence almost a decade later but is not recognised by Serbia.

07/12/2022 - 13:22

07 December 2022 - 13:22

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