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Journalist attacked in articles written in pro-government newspaper

(HRW/IFEX) - 8 June 2009

Kosovo: Protect Independent Journalist
Government Should Condemn Threats and Defend Press Freedom

Kosovo's president and prime minister should forcefully condemn recent threats against the independent journalist Jeta Xharra in a newspaper that receives substantial advertising revenues from the government, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks are the latest indication that freedom of the media in Kosovo is coming under threat.

The newspaper in which the threats have appeared, Infopress, is considered a pro-government publication. In one recent editorial, it accused Xharra of being a Serbian spy and another opinion piece published in the paper said that, "Jeta has brought it upon herself to have a short life."

"These attacks are clearly aimed at silencing the kind of journalism and investigative reporting that makes the government uncomfortable," said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The president and prime minister need to make clear that they don't want any part in this kind of behavior and that threats against journalists will be fully investigated."

Xharra is the Kosovo director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) ( http://kosovo.birn.eu.com/en/1/100/1456/ ) and is the host of a popular current affairs show called "Life in Kosovo," which airs on the public TV Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK). The program has covered various controversial topics in Kosovo, such as allegations of government corruption, malfunctioning of the criminal justice system, and alleged crimes by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The pro-government newspaper Infopress has led the aggressive charge against Xharra, running a series of articles and opinion pieces against her. She has also received threatening emails and death threats from unknown individuals. On June 5, one of the Infopress editorials stated that its author "would be honored to shake the hand of any such dutiful Albanian" who took it upon himself to "punish" Xharra.

The recent attacks began after a program about freedom of the press in Kosovo, which examined how government advertising influences the media and the firing of journalists who reported unfavorably on the government. The show featured an incident in the municipality of Skenderaj, run by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, in which the BIRN Kosovo TV crew had been assaulted outside the culture house by an unidentified armed man, who also stole their footage. A BIRN reporter had been earlier been refused entry to the Municipality Office in Skenderaj, and when they reported the attack to the police, the police escorted them to the edge of town.
A group of Kosovo nongovernmental organizations ( http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/19937/ ), some local media and opposition politicians have condemned the threats against Xharra, as has the international community's top envoy to Kosovo, Pieter Feith.

"The political and financial supporters of the Kosovo government, especially the United States, should press the authorities to respect freedom of the media," Troszczynska-van Genderen said. "Despite the public outcry, no one from the Kosovo government has spoken out about the unacceptable and dangerous threats against a journalist or the attacks on media freedom, let alone investigate the apparent assault on the BIRN journalists in Skenderaj."

For more of Human Rights Watch's work on Kosovo, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/special_focus/list/872

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