Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation into actions by Kosovo Police, following the arrests and alleged ill-treatment of dozens of Vetevendosje activists on Saturday.
“From the videos and photographs we have seen, it appears that the Kosovo Police used excessive force during the operation to arrest members of Vetevendosje in the party’s offices on Saturday,” Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Balkans, told Kosovo 2.0. “We are in the process of gathering further information, but would urge the authorities and the National Preventive Mechanism to immediately open investigations into the conduct of the police, and any individual allegations of ill-treatment received.”
On Saturday afternoon, shortly after the conclusion of the manifestation organized by the opposition in Zahir Pajaziti Square, armed special police forces surrounded and raided Vetevendosje’s headquarters in an action that resembled a counter-terrorism operation. The police still haven’t confirmed whether they had an order from the prosecutor to carry out the raid. In addition to executing the arrest warrant for Vetevendosje’s deputy Albin Kurti, the police also announced that they had arrested 97 activists in total, both within the offices and on the streets.
Vetevendosje printed a list of 61 names who its says were “taken by force” from within their offices, claiming that “over 150 citizens and activists” had been detained by the police through “brutal and violent” actions in the course of the day. It further reported that dozens of supporters and activists had been injured, some badly, on the streets, in the party’s headquarters and in police custody, including by the use of rubber bullets. Police denied that rubber bullets were deployed.
In addition to Amnesty International, prominent human rights organizations within Kosovo have also expressed their concerns and condemned the police actions towards Vetevendosje activists. After monitoring Saturday’s events and conducting interviews with arrested activists at Prishtina’s police station and the QKUK emergency clinic, Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT) said that the actions of Kosovo Police were unnecessary and disproportionate and that they could not be justified. “Terrorizing citizen-activists through directing automatic barrelled weapons [at activists] and hitting and assaulting them with batons, and even with rubber bullets, punches and kicks, constitutes severe physical mistreatment,” read the KRCT statement. It added that these actions were a violation of legal provisions and international human rights acts that are applicable in Kosovo.
Kosovo 2.0 contacted the Ombudsman’s office in Kosovo, which said that it has been monitoring events and is in the process of gathering facts and testimonies, before releasing a report soon. Kosovo’s former Ombudsman, Sami Kurteshi, who joined Vetevendosje just a few days ago, was one of the injured activists and needed medical treatment at the QKUK emergency clinic.
The Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF)today published a report regarding Saturday’s events, which assesses the escalation as unnecessary after the peaceful protest. CDHRF concluded that the police intervention was a non-democratic action and that it does not correspond with basic human rights, freedom of speech or freedom of political organization. CDHFR appealed to the Kosovo Police Inspectorate not to wait for official reports into police actions but to instigate the process of investigation itself. “In a situation where there has been large unrest with many injured [Kosovo Police Inspectorate] needs to react and investigate ex oficio (according their official task) and there were such cases [after] the last manifestation,” said the CDHFR report.
In contrast to the responses from human rights organizations, a joint-statement by the embassies of four out of five Quint countries (US, UK, France, and Italy — Germany did not sign the statement) praised Kosovo Police for its actions on Saturday. “We are pleased that demonstrations have passed peacefully and would like to commend everyone, especially the Kosovo Police, involved,” read the statement.