Women’s rights activists in Kosovo have reacted angrily to a court’s sentencing of a man convicted of the aggravated murder of his wife. Nebih Berisha was convicted of murdering his wife Zejnepe in October 2015 by stabbing her 20 times, with the Basic Court of Prizren yesterday sentencing him to 12 years in prison for the offense. Berisha was also sentenced to an additional one year for causing light bodily injuries to his daughter.
Activists are outraged that in total Berisha will serve just 12 years and six months in prison, one of the lightest sentences that could have been given according to Kosovo’s legal framework. The Criminal Code of Kosovo states that a punishment of between 10 years and life in prison should be imposed upon any person who deprives a family member of their life.
Kallxo.com reported that in sentencing, Judge Xhevdet Elshani said: “Noting that the offense was committed in a limited state of mind, for the offense of murder, [the court] declares the sentence of 12 years imprisonment, while for the second offense of light body harm a sentence of one year.”
After the news broke, activists and members of civil society immediately reacted on social media, demanding justice for Zejnepe Berisha. They will gather tomorrow (Friday, April 14) in Zahir Pajaziti Square at 12:00 to express their disgust at the lenient sentencing and to demand that the prosecution appeals to demand the maximum sentence.
Their consternation is heightened in light of the systematic violence that Zejnepe suffered at the hands of her husband over a number of years. After her death, Zejnepe’s family claimed that she had reported domestic violence against her to authorities 16 times, but that her requests for help had been ignored.
Her death, and that of Diana Kastrati in 2011 — who was killed by her ex-husband after a court had failed to issue a requested restraining order against him — put the overall justice system under scrutiny, highlighting its inefficiency in treating cases of domestic violence.
A statement issued today by the organizers of tomorrow’s protest said that given the circumstances surrounding Zejnepe’s brutal murder, the sentence of her killer was disproportionate. They highlight that there is also a discrepancy in the sentences handed out by courts to men and to women.
“Multiple facts show how the justice system in Kosovo isn’t fair in the sentencing of men and women for murder,” reads the statement. “Women often receive harsher sentences in cases where they have committed the act in self-defense. All this makes us understand that the wellbeing of women and girls in Kosovo continues to be affected, and this is particularly from the institutions that need to provide security, justice and equality in all spheres of life.”
Through a press release published immediately after the sentencing yesterday, Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) highlighted examples from visits that they have carried out to Lipjan Correctional Centre for Females and Juveniles. They reported that they have met with women in the prison that have been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, even in cases where they had killed in self-defense.
For sociologist Eli Gashi, who is co-founder of Alter Habitus – Institute for Studies in Society and Culture, Zejnepe’s case should be classified for what it is — an aggravated murder by someone with a long history of carrying out systematic domestic violence. She told K2.0 that the failure to provide the maximum life prison sentence as specified in the Criminal Code is an indicator of the patriarchal mindset dominating Kosovo’s justice system.
“It seems that these gentlemen [in the courts] have a method of evaluating how much a woman’s life is worth and how much a man’s life is worth,” she said. “I consider that such a decision is a crime in itself and those who took that decision are disgraced. Such decisions clearly show that the life of a woman doesn’t have any value in this justice system.”
Gashi also suggested that the decision by the court not to lay down a clear deterrent by imposing a longer sentence could even increase the number of assaults and murders. “Our society must seek responsibility from the court and judge that came to this conclusion,” she said.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.