Former Decan judge accused of abuse of office is released, her son is found guilty

An earmarked case for visa liberalization, the abuse of office and bribery case against a Decani judge, her son, and a police officer, ends with a single guilty verdict.

The Court in Ferizaj freed former judge Safete Tolaj from all charges of abuse of office on Friday.

According to the verdict the court announced on Friday, the State Prosecutor failed to prove the allegation that former Judge Tolaj, who resigned her post in November, had abused her office.

Judge Tolaj was indicted of abuse of office last year,  after BIRN’s Drejtesia ne Kosove programme aired footage of her son, Fisnik Tolaj, receiving a bribe in exchange of influencing judicial proceedings.

Fisnik, who faced charges of fraud, exertion of influence, forgery and illegal possession, and use of weapons, was found guilty on all charges and has been sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison.

The third defendant on the case, the police officer Granit Shehaj was also found not guilty on allegations of abuse of office, since according to the verdict, the prosecution also failed to prove that Shehaj exercised influence by abusing his position as a police officer.

The Ferizaj Court has refused the prosecution’s request to permanently confiscate an apartment valued at 40,000 euros, which is owned by the spouse of Fisnik Tolaj, Blerina Vishaj. The court has assessed that this property is not connected to the criminal offense, since the amount of this property exceeds the amount that Tolaj was being accused off.

The case is one of the 40 something earmarked cases for the track record of fighting corruption, the last criterion for Kosovo to get a visa-free regime to Schengen countries.

Originally published on BIRN’s Prishtina Insight.

Albania and Kosovo Ministers, Experts Discuss Higher Education

BIRN Kosovo, in association with the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society, hosted a discussion panel entitled ‘The challenges of higher education in Kosovo and Albania’ on July 7 in Durres, Albania.

The debate brought together policy-makers, education experts and journalists from Kosovo and Albania as well as senior officials.

The panel consisted of Albanian and Kosovo Education Ministers, Lindita Nikolla and Shyqiri Bytyci who opened the panel with statements regarding the current situation of education and future cooperation between their two countries.

The ministers, along with professors Artan Fuga and Dukagjin Pupovci, discussed education reform and efforts to ensure quality in both countries.

According to Kosovo Education Minister Bytyci, the situation in Kosovo and Albania regarding higher education is similar and points towards a “quality crisis” in both countries.

Bytyci said that Kosovo higher education institutions, he said that different universities are working as companies, where diplomas are being sold just like products.

Bytyci also said that now is the time for the government to come up with measures to combat these phenomena.

However Albanian Education Minister Lindita Nikolla said that even though the ministries of both countries have worked together towards the improvement of the quality of education, the situation in these countries was not identical.

Nikolla highlighted efforts to accredit higher education institutions in Albania which have recently been carried out using a British quality assurance strategy.

Professor Dukagjin Pupovci said that the main issues that are not being addressed are the selling of diplomas and unprofessional qualifications.

Professor Artan Fuga said that one of the most criticised policies has been the tariff increase at public universities.

After the panel, the conference continued with a presentation by the Professor Gazmend Luboteni and Professor Vjollca Krasniqi from the Kosovo Accreditation Agency, who spoke about the issues of accreditation and quality assurance.

The third part of the conference involved journalists Besa Kalaja from Preportr, Besnik Krasniqi from Koha Ditore and Rron Gjinovci from ORCA, who held a discussion under the title ‘Reporting and investigation in education: specific cases’.

On July 8, the conference was followed by an intensive workshop with journalists, who developed ideas for investigative stories on higher education in Kosovo.

Few Kosovo Corruption Verdicts Lead to Jail Terms – BIRN

Only a small proportion of those found guilty of corruption in Kosovo end up in prison, the 12th court monitoring report produced by BIRN and Internews Kosova finds.

Few corruption-related court cases in Kosovo end with a prison sentence, BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova’s annual court monitoring report for 2017, presented on Tuesday, said.

Since the first such report, 12 years ago, the project has monitored over 10,000 court sessions, revealing important evidence of violations and failings within the judiciary in Kosovo.

Introducing the report, Labinot Leposhtica, from BIRN’s legal office in Kosovo, noted that only 32 of 254 court verdicts on corruption in 2017 resulted in prison sentences.

In most cases, those found guilty received conditional prison sentences or fines, Leposhtica added.

The report outlined numerous instances of light sentences – and of seriously prolonged corruption-related court cases.

Leposhtica also drew attention to procedural violations by judges, prosecutors and lawyers, which were witnessed during the monitoring.

The report was presented at a panel discussion on Tuesday, when the panelists discussed the main findings – including that few corruption cases in Kosovo end in prison sentences.

Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo director, said that the past 12 years of court monitoring had revealed both progress and cause for disappointment.

She mentioned one notorious case, of Xhabir Zharku, former mayor of Kacanik, who after being convicted in Kosovo simply left the country and did not serve his prison sentence.

“The person you refer to is Kosovo’s shame, but such cases will not discourage us from supporting the judiciary. Such cases should not happen again,” Kosovo’s Minister of Justice, Abelard Tahiri, said, responding to Xharra’s words.

Tahiri said he saw BIRN as a welcome partner in his own work in the justice system.

The head of the Kosovo Supreme Court, Enver Peci, said judges and prosecutors had become more disciplined as a result of BIRN’s monitoring work over the past 12 years.

He said it was good that “the courts are not afraid of BIRN any longer; before, people were like, ‘Run! The BIRN people are here’ … whereas now we’ve become more disciplined because of you,” Peci said.

Hasan Shala, head of the Court of Appeals, talked about some of the worst flaws in the judiciary. “There are secret compromises between judges and prosecutors,” he admitted.

But he also mentioned achievements. “There were 160 cases related to corruption in 2017, 145 of which were closed during the year, so only 15 were left to be finished in 2018,” Shala noted.

Nehat Idrizi, head of the Kosovo Judicial Council, agreed with the findings of the report but said they were working hard on evaluating judges who since last year had been assessed by a professional commission.

“Last year, we started evaluating the judges’ performances; 66 judges have been evaluated, most of them have received a positive assessment, and only two or three were negative and had to undergo further training,” he said.

Idrizi said the low number of judges was a challenge when the number of unfinished court cases remained significant.

He also highlighted the lack of supporting staff for judges, arguing that they had an insufficient number of personal aides.

BIRN Kosovo Holds Inheritance Law Debate

BIRN Kosovo held a roundtable discussion on June 26 entitled ‘Moving forward with the package of laws on inheritance, addressing gender issues’.

The roundtable at the Palace of Justice in Pristina was intended to look again at suggestions made by civil society organisations about amendments to the laws on inheritance in Kosovo, which are seen as unfavourable to women.

Key speakers at the discussion included Lisa Magno, Acting Mission Director at USAID, MP Korab Sejdiu and Altin Ademi, advisor and chief of office to the Minister of Justice.

“USAID offers its full support on debate, discussion and passion about this issue,” said Magno.

She said it was very important that the package of laws should be moved forward.

“Without action, there will be no change,” she added.

MP Sejdiu affirmed that he and his colleagues stood ready to help and cooperate in order to improve the current situation of women in terms of inheritance, emphasising that the main issue is Kosovo society’s mentality about women’s roles.

“If, since they were in the womb, women have been at a disadvantage to men, this disadvantage will continue to follow them,” he said.

After remarks from the key speakers, the floor was opened up to a series of panellists – Nehat Idrizi, president of Kosovo Judicial Council, Enver Peci, president of the Supreme Court, Brian Kemple of the USAID Property Rights Programme, Hasan Shala, president of the Court of Appeals, Aferdita Bytyqi, president of the Basic Court in Pristina and Isa Kelmendi, a judge at the Supreme Court.

Addressing the issue of delayed inheritance, Kemple called for more activism and solidarity in society to help women by working on the recognition and implementation of their rights to inheritance.

Bytyqi called for the issue from men to be taken more seriously by men in Kosovo society.

“I call on those men who have an impact [on society], to seriously fight for this matter,” she said.

After the panel, the roundtable continued with an open discussion including prosecutors, lawyers, judges, parliament members, ministries, and civil society representatives.

The event ended with a request from MP Sejdiu to send any concrete suggestions about laws on inheritance to him, promising to try to push them forward together with his colleagues.

The moderators of the roundtable discussion, Kreshnik Gashi, editor and director of the TV programme ‘Justice in Kosovo’, and Labinot Leposhtica from the legal office of BIRN Kosovo, responded that these suggestions have been ready for a long time already and will be sent to Sejdiu.

BIRN-Backed Documentary Wins Washington Festival Award

The documentary film ‘Kosovo… Nazdravlje! Gëzuar!’, produced by the Association of Independent Journalists of Vojvodina and BIRN Kosovo, won the audience award at the Serbian Contemporary Short and Documentary Film Festival on June 10 in Washington DC.

The documentary, directed by Aleksandar Reljic, looks at the possibility of coexistence between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.

In 2017, a Serbian far-right group called Zavetnici attempted to stop a screening of the film in Novi Sad, but the coordinators and the police prevented them.

The documentary originated from project ‘Real People – Real Solutions’, which addresses relations between Kosovo and Serbia from the perspectives of history, everyday life, and the future.

The project is a cooperation between the Association of Independent Journalists of Vojvodina, BIRN Kosovo and ZFD Forum Belgrade, with the support of the EU delegation in Serbia.

Four other movies have been shot as part of the same project.

The Serbian Contemporary Short and Documentary Film Festival is staged by the Orfelin Circle (Krug Orfelin) organisation.

Conference Discusses Ombudsperson’s Role in Kosovo

The embassy of the Netherlands in Kosovo, ACDC and BIRN held a conference and discussion in north Mitrovica on June 12, to endorse the ‘Boosting the Role of the Ombudsperson in Watching Human Rights in Kosovo’ project, which is supported by the embassy of Netherlands and is being implemented by ACDC and BIRN.

At the conference, the panellists talked about human rights and the Ombudsperson’s role, then participants had the opportunity to discuss the topic with experts who are directly or indirectly involved in dealing with human rights.

The panellists were Gerrie Willems, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Kosovo, Mehdi Geci, a representative of the Ombudsperson, Tatjana Lazarevic, editor of the KoSSev news website and Ljubisa Bascarevic, a human rights activist.

Ambassador Williams said that the objective of the project is to raise public awareness and encourage people to report relevant information to the Ombudsperson.

Ombudsperson’s representative Geci said only two per cent of all citizens’ reports to the Kosovo Ombudsperson come from Serb cizens in the north, and they are mostly related to the usurpation of property and prolongation of judicial cases.

Lazarevic from KoSSev claimed meanwhile that human rights are being violated on a daily basis in Kosovo.

UK Parliament Opens Inquiry After BIRN Weapons Report

The British parliament’s committee on arms export controls  requested internal correspondence related to the shipment of ammunition from Bosnia to Saudi Arabia, following BIRN’s investigation into the deal.

The committee said it would write a formal letter outlining the information it needs as part of an inquiry into UK arms licences issued in 2016.

On June 6, BIRN revealed that the UK failed to warn Bosnia and Herzegovina of its suspicions about the consignment of bullets officially bound for Saudi Arabia.

This is the latest case of international reactions following BIRN’s Balkan arms trade investigations.

In September 2017, a BIRN investigation had sparked an official probe in Germany into whether the Pentagon broke the law by sending weapons to Syrian rebels through its German airbases. A public prosecutor in the  city of Kaiserslautern carried out a preliminary investigation into the findings of an investigation that BIRN, the OCCRP and Süddeutsche Zeitung published.

BIRN’s weapons investigations in 2016 provoked reactions from heads of states and foreign ministers (in Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro) and from arms companies. The EU’s diplomatic service also said it was looking into the findings of the BIRN and OCCRP investigation into how Central and Eastern Europe weapons are flooding the battlefields of Syria, while the opposition in Germany questioned Berlin’s role in the Middle East arms trade following the reports.

BIRN Regional Meeting Held in Bucharest

Directors, board members, partners and donors of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, met in the Romanian capital Bucharest on June 2-3 for the network’s latest regional meeting of its governing bodies.

At the meeting, the BIRN Network’s activities and achievements in 2017-2018 were presented and the plans for the upcoming period discussed.

The annual Steering Committee meeting and Assembly session were held, and regional social media guidelines were adopted at the event.

In recent times, BIRN has operated in an environment marked by illiberal tendencies in the region, media freedom decline in several countries, captured states, and unresolved issues from the past.

Nevertheless, its online publishing, TV and video production reach growing numbers of people; its journalists have won a number of local and international awards, and its reporting has produced tangible social and political changes.

BIRN’s longstanding donors and partners from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and ERSTE foundation attended the meeting.

BIRN Kosovo Held Grant Information Sessions

BIRN Kosovo held two information sessions on May 24 and 25, one in Prishtina and one in North Mitrovica, to provide clarifications and answer questions from prospective applicants to the ‘Support to Civil Society and Media Initiatives’ project funded by European Union in Kosovo.

The sessions focused specifically on “Contributing to the strengthening of independent, investigative and useful journalism for the public and freedom of expression in Kosovo”.

The most significant objectives of the project are strengthening Kosovo’s media sector to fulfill its role in a democratic environment, improving the internal governance of the Press Council of Kosovo and improving the understanding and enforcement of the law on freedom of information, prosecution, copyright and media-related legislation.

BIRN representatives also provided more information about potential applicants’ requirements in terms of the project’s timeline and budget lines, acceptable and unacceptable activities, covered and non-covered expenses within the project, and application procedures.

With the call for applications for the ‘Support to Civil Society and Media Initiatives’ project, BIRN Kosovo will award about 20 sub-grants divided into small grants and medium grants.

Small grants involve amounts from 2,000 to 5,000 euros for a six-month project implementation period, while medium grants involve amounts from 20,000 to 30,000 euros for a 12-month project implementation period.

For further details and information about the project, follow this link:

Call for Proposals Aimed To Strengthen Independent Journalism

Call for Proposals for the EU Funded Project

“Contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo”

BIRN and AJK have joined forces in implementing the EU Funded Project “Contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo”. This Call for Proposals is one of the project’s components which aims to provide opportunities for local NGOs/CSOs, including journalists, operating and working in Kosovo, to tackle the issues related to media freedoms and freedom of expression in their respective communities. Specifically, the given scheme seeks to develop not only independent, investigative, impartial, unbiased and publicly beneficial journalism in Kosovo, but also equip its beneficiaries with the required skills and resources to move beyond protocol journalism and delve into creative, investigative, legally-sound and publicly beneficial journalism.

This Call for Proposals contains two lots:

LOT I: Supporting document-based reporting on themes related to good governance, education, healthcare, economy and human rights and encourage access to public documents.

LOT IIImproving internal governance of the PCK and/or its members organizations in respecting labor law, respecting copyright and applying best standards of media legislation.

The applications MUST be sent by e-mail to [email protected] by 08.06.2018, at 16:00.

Thirrje për Propozime për Projekt të Financuar nga BE

“Kontribut në forcimin e gazetarisë së pavarur, hulumtuese dhe të dobishme për publikun, si dhe në lirinë e shprehjes në Kosovë”

BIRN dhe AGK kanë bashkuar forcat në zbatimin e projektit të financuar nga BE-ja “Kontribut në forcimin e gazetarisë së pavarur, hulumtuese dhe të dobishme për publikun, si dhe në lirinë e shprehjes në Kosovë”. Kjo Thirrje për Propozime është një nga komponentët e projektit që ka për qëllim të ofrojnë mundësi për OJQ/OSHC-të lokale, përfshirë gazetarët që veprojnë dhe punojnë në Kosovë, për të trajtuar çështjet që kanë të bëjnë me lirinë e medias dhe lirinë e shprehjes në komunitetet e tyre përkatëse. Konkretisht, skema e ofruar mëton të zhvillojë jo vetëm një gazetari të pavarur, hulumtuese, të paanshme, joparagjykuese dhe në të mirë të publikut, por gjithashtu t’i pajisë përfituesit e saj me shkathtësitë dhe resurset e nevojshme për të lëvizur përtej gazetarisë së protokollit dhe për të hyrë në gazetarinë krijuese, hulumtuese dhe në të mirë publike .

Kjo Thirrje për Propozime përmban dy llote:

LLOTI I: Mbështetja e raportimit të bazuar në dokumente mbi temat që kanë të bëjnë me qeverisjen e mirë, arsimin, shëndetësinë, ekonominë dhe të drejtat e njeriut dhe inkurajimi i qasjes në dokumente publike.

LLOTI II: Përmirësimi i qeverisjes së brendshme të KMSHK dhe/ose organizatave anëtarëve të saj në respektimin e ligjit të punës, duke respektuar të drejtën e autorit dhe zbatuar standardet më të mira të legjislacionit të medias.

Aplikacionet DUHET të dërgohen me postë elektronike në adresën [email protected] deri më 08.06.2018, ora 16:00.

Poziv za predloge za projekat koji finansira EU

“Doprinos jačanju nezavisnog, istraživačkog i novinarstva od javne koristi i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu”

BIRN i UNK su udružili snage u sprovođenju projekta koji finansira EU “Doprinos jačanju nezavisnog, istraživačkog i novinarstva od javne koristi i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu” Ovaj Poziv za predloge je jedna od komponenti projekta koja ima za cilj pružanje prilika NVO/OCD-ima, uključujući novinare koji deluju i rade na Kosovu u borbi protiv pitanja koja se odnose na slobodu medija i slobodu izražavanja u svojim zajednicama. Posebno, navedena shema pokušava da razvije ne samo nezavisno, istraživačko, objektivno i novinarstvo od javne koristi na Kosovu, nego i korisnicima pruži odgovarajuće veštine i resurse za prevazilaženje protokolskog novinarstva i udube se u kreativno, istraživačko, zakonski opravdano i novinarstvo od javne koristi.

Ovaj Poziv za ponude sadrži dva lota:

LOT I: Podrška izveštavanju zasnovanom na dokumentima o temama koje se odnose na dobro upravljanje, obrazovanje, privredu i ljudska prava i ohrabrivanje uvida u javna dokumenta.

LOT II: Poboljšanje unutrašnjeg upravljanja SŠM i/ili članica organizacija u poštovanju zakona o radu, poštovanju autorskih prava i primeni najboljih standarda u medijskom zakonodavstvu.

Prijave se MORAJU poslati e-mailom na [email protected] do 08.06.2018. u 16.00