A month has passed since 26-year-old Vetevendosje activist Astrit Dehari died in custody. The circumstances are as yet unclear regarding whether this happened while he was in a cell in the Prizren Detention Center — where he was kept in custody for 68 days as one of six suspects for an RPG attack on the Kosovo Assembly — or while he was being rushed to the Regional Hospital of Prizren. Dehari was found covered in blood in his cell at midday on Nov. 5.
According to official findings Dehari committed suicide; his death was found to have been caused as a result of mechanical asphyxiation — his upper airways were blocked by an object. In a press conference held on Nov. 18, the Chief Prosecutor of Prizren, Syle Hoxha, presented the results of the official autopsy report, which stated, “with credibility we can say that the injuries were self-inflicted, ‘hesitant,’ accompanied by external bleeding, however they did not cause a hemorrhagic shock.”
Nevertheless, less than two weeks after the publishing of the autopsy, relatives, colleagues and even members of Kosovo’s civil society do not accept the forensic report, and continue to question and cast doubts over the role of the state institutions, whose 24 hour care Dehari was under during those 68 days in custody.
Meanwhile, civil society organizations and individuals have organized a petition, the main demand of which is an international investigation into Dehari’s death. On Nov. 29, the petition of 23,774 signatures was submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, Gender Equality, Missing Persons and Petitions and to the Presidency of the Assembly.
Civil society representatives see an international investigation into Dehari’s death as the only way to unearth the truth, especially after contradictory statements that were made by Kosovar officials in the media regarding the case. On the day that the news of Dehari’s death broke, the head of Prizren Police, Nexhmi Krasniqi, told media that he has passed away as a result of a medicinal overdose.
“Based on the initial information that we got from the director of the Prizren Detention Center, the victim used some medicaments and fell into a state of coma,” Krasniqi said on Nov. 5. “On the way to the hospital he passed away. When he reached the hospital, he showed no sign of life.”
However, the autopsy report later found that Dehari’s cause of death was asphyxiation from a solid object. The contradictory statement made Dehari’s parents Xhemile and Avni Dehari come out and speak publicly about the case and express their suspicions about their son’s cause of death.
To eliminate any possible suspicions related to the case, the Minister of Justice, Dhurata Hoxha, sought help from the UK on Nov. 11, a week before the legal report for Dehari’s death was published. Hoxha wrote a letter to the British Ambassador in Kosovo requesting the engagement of Scotland Yard, the UK’s metropolitan police force, in the investigation. This request was seen as unacceptable by Dehari’s relatives who demanded her resignation — as well as that of Minister of Internal Affairs Skender Hyseni — before any international investigation was conducted.
The UK refused Minister Hoxha’s request with the justification that the Dehari case had no connection with the UK.
While Kosovo was technically able to request assistance in this case, a legal expert has now cast major doubts as to whether an international investigation could be led by a foreign state. This is because international investigations are only allowed to be led by states with which Kosovo has cooperative agreements in the field of criminal law. The number of states that Kosovo has such agreements with is limited.
From 98 international agreements that the Kosovo Government has signed, K2.0 has identified only two for “reciprocal legal aid in criminal issues.” One was signed with Macedonia on April 8, 2011, and the other with Turkey on May 31 the same year.
Ehat Miftaraj was director of the Department for International Legal Cooperation in the Ministry of Justice between 2005 and 2011, and is currently a high ranking researcher at the NGO Institute for Justice in Kosovo. He explained to K2.0 that international investigations can only be conducted in cases in which the state has an international agreement for criminal issues with the state from which it is seeking help.
“Besides the competent authorities in Kosovo, such as the Kosovo Police, the prosecution and Kosovo’s courts, including EULEX, without an international agreement they have no right to investigate and legally prosecute criminal cases that are the competences of the state of Kosovo,” said Miftaraj.
According to him, the law enables the minister of justice to seek assistance in the investigation of cases, as she did from the UK, but under no circumstances does it provide for other states to lead investigations, unless an explicit international agreement is in place. The ability to lead investigations falls exclusively under the competences of Kosovo’s state institutions.
“The Criminal Procedure Code [of Kosovo], the Law on International Legal Cooperation [in Criminal Matters] and other relevant legislation determine that legal issues committed in the Republic of Kosovo must be exclusively investigated by the State Prosecutor and agencies that are authorized by law,” he said, citing the examples of the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), Macedonia and Turkey. “Every initiative that calls for this case to be internationally investigated by international investigators or prosecutors must pass through international agreements according to procedures that are determined in the Constitution.”
Miftaraj also explained that generally a foreign country would only agree to carry out an investigation where the case was related in some way to that country. K2.0 discovered that Dehari also had Macedonian citizenship, a fact confirmed by Vetevendosje spokesperson, Tinka Kurti. However, despite the fact that it has an agreement regarding criminal law issues with this state, according to Miftaraj the possibility of Macedonia conducting an investigation is slim.
“At this stage of investigation, when we have official reports by the Kosovo institutions, I doubt that a serious state will be involved in any circumstance, bearing in mind that by now a public opinion has been created regarding the case,” added Miftaraj.
Politics around the Dehari case
The Dehari case has by now been transformed into a source of daily consumption for local politics. The government and the opposition have both addressed accusations and counter-accusations for “inciting the murder or suicide of Dehari.” Vetevendosje accuses the “people in power” of murder; there were also government deputies that have accused Vetevendosje of inciting its people to take their own lives.
Tensions grew between two deputies, Vetevendosje’s Albulena Haxhiu and LDK’s Armend Zemaj, during a meeting of the Committee on Legislation on Nov. 21. This commission is led by Haxhiu, who opened the meeting by raising the rejection of a Vetevendosje proposal to discuss the Dehari case in an Assembly session; Vetevendosje had not manage to collect the necessary number of deputy signatures to require a special session.
On the other hand, the President of the Assembly, PDK’s Kadri Veseli, said in last week’s session that Vetevendosje’s parliamentary group had never directly asked the Presidency of the Assembly for an extraordinary Assembly session. Veseli also suggested that the petition that was signed by citizens was never addressed directly to the Presidency of the Assembly.
“We are all human beings; I impart the responsibility for the decision to you as deputies of the Kosovo Assembly,” said Veseli. “If 40 signatures are collected, PDK will [even] request an extraordinary session [ourselves] on December 14. I promise you that it will be discussed in this room; all cards will be on the table. Then we will know who must take responsibility for the murder or suicide of Astrit Dehari, who incited it and who caused it.”K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.