Court Acquits Defendants in BIRN Kosovo Case

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A court has acquitted five defendants accused of staging a hate campaign in the media against BIRN director Jeta Xharra.

A mixed panel of Kosovo and EULEX judges found five defendants not guilty of threatening Xharra and violating her rights in May and June 2009.

They were the former mayor of Skenderaj, Sami Lushtaku, the former owner of Infopress, Rexhep Hoti, the former editor-in-chief, Avni Azemi, and two former journalists, Rizah Hajdari and Qani Mehmeti.

In 12 articles published by Infopress, Xharra was called a “Serbian spy”, a “professional bomb”, an “embassy slut” and subjected to other insults, the indictment said.

It said a campaign against Xharra was launched after Radio Television Kosovo, RTK, aired an edition of BIRN’s TV programme, “Jeta ne Kosove” (“Life in Kosovo”,) dealing with alleged mismanagement in Skenderaj/Srbica where Lushtaku was mayor at the time.

The court on Wednesday ruled the articles did not pose a threat to Xharra even if they damaged “her honour and reputation”.

“We did not find that the content of the articles were a coded threat,” Judge Vladimir Micula said.

Referring to threatening emails that Xharra and the BIRN office in Pristina received after the programme was aired, the EULEX judge said that “no link was found between the articles and those acts”.

The prosecution said it was unhappy with the verdict and would appeal. “It is necessary for a democratic society like Kosovo to do everything it can to protect the precious right of freedom of the press and punish those who undermine it,” EULEX prosecutor Maria Bamieh said.

“The threats and the defamation made against her had a clear goal. The accused wanted to scare Jeta Xharra and her team,” she added.

“They wanted to humiliate her and… get a critical and credible journalist off the table who had dared to criticize the political achievements of Mr Lushtaku, a very powerful politician and social figure indeed in Kosovo,” she continued

Xharra said of the verdict that she “never thought it would be easy but we won’t give up”, adding: “I encourage you [in the media] not to give in, to have a better media environment compared to what there is now.”

Xharra has already filed a libel case, seeking compensation from the former defendants.

Arianit Koci, lawyer for Lushtaku, described the verdict as “just and legal”.
“It was a legal and professional battle,” he said. “Our arguments were stronger and it was proven that Sami Lushtaku did not threaten Jeta Xharra.”

The trial started in March.