As circumstances related to the death of Astrit Dehari continue to remain unclear, human rights activists are calling for an immediate independent investigation into his death. The 26-year-old medical student and Vetevendosje activist died while in custody at the Prizren Detention Center on Saturday.
Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) today urged authorities to fulfill their obligations when it comes to protecting persons in detention and to take all essential measures to prevent prisoners from having their fundamental rights violated.
“It is the duty of state institutions to protect the lives of persons that are deprived of their liberty,” said Sarah Maliqi, program officer at CRD’s Prishtina office, in a press release. “The death of Astrit Dehari at Prizren Detention Center is disturbing and requires an independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death.”
Dehari had been held without charge on suspicion of terrorism for 68 days, after an attack on the Assembly building in August. Vetevendosje’s leaders claim that his arrest arrest — and the arrest of five other party activists — was politically motivated.
On Tuesday, the day of Dehari’s funeral, thousands of people marched through the streets of Prishtina to demand justice as questions remain over his death. Confusion and anger among citizens have been increased by contradictory statements released by Kosovo’s authorities: On Monday, following an autopsy, chief persecutor for the Prizren region, Syle Hoxha, said that the cause of death was asphyxiation, dismissing initial police statements that Dehari had committed suicide with a medical overdose.
“The contradictory statements issued by the police and correctional services following the announcement of [Dehari’s] death have created an atmosphere of mistrust, frustration and fear,” said Maliqi. “Civil Rights Defenders will closely monitor the situation and continue to voice our concerns.”
Teuta Hoxha, executive director at the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), told K2.0 that the mixed declarations on Dehari’s death by the the authorities weaken the trust of citizens in Kosovo institutions, while creating space for allegations and speculation.
“Following the news of what happened to Astrit Dehari in prison, the responsible authorities have given conflicting statements that call into question the manner of [his] death,” said Hoxha. “This leaves room for manipulation and impedes the process of shedding light onto his fate; [it] increases the lack of trust in the institutions, a trust that is already fragile.”
Hoxha argued that civil society should now focus its attention on ensuring full disclosure in the case, regardless of the factors that caused Dehari’s death.
Kosovo’s Ombudsperson office has already opened a special investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dehari’s death, following a request from his parents. “If it is confirmed that the death of a prisoner came about as a result of neglect and lack of care from public authorities, it is one of the most serious human right’s violations,” the Ombudsperson, Hilmi Jashari told media on Monday.
The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms office in Prizren called for the level of security at correctional centers across Kosovo to be enhanced, while Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims is also investigating the case and will soon release a report.K
Featured image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.