Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the threats and treatment that Sebahate Shala of the KosovaPress agency has received since raising a sensitive issue about two members of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) at a news conference that Andy Sparkes, the deputy head of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), gave on 12 November.
Shala asked Sparkes if it was normal that two PDK members who are being investigated by EULEX on suspicion of corruption and murder should be running in next December’s parliamentary elections, clearly contravening European democratic standards. Sparkes acknowledged that it was not “good for Kosovo’s image.”
“Ever since my intervention at the news conference and the publication of my article, I have been getting a lot of very humiliating, threatening and offensive SMS messages from PDK supporters,” Shala said in her written statement, which Reporters Without Borders received. “I am being very clearly warned about what I may write.”
The article that Shala wrote after the news conference was quickly posted on the KosovaPress website but was suddenly removed a few hours later. Shala said the news agency’s management valuated her questions at the news conference were “unprofessional,” “stupid” and “had nothing to do with the election campaign.” She added there was no alternative for her but to leave such a working environment.
“The KosovaPress management’s reaction is incomprehensible and unworthy of a profession in which solidarity should be the rule,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Shala’s questions were both justified and very clearly a matter of public interest. Her treatment by the agency was totally unwarranted and clearly motivated by non-journalistic considerations. We urge the KosovaPress management to immediately return her in the agency and to support its journalists when they are threatened in this way.”
This case raises serious concerns about the freedom that state and privately-owned media journalists will be allowed in their coverage of the campaign for the December elections. The PDK leadership and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s acting government must publicly express their support for Shala and disown the threats. An investigation must also be opened with the aim of identifying those responsible for the SMS messages and ensuring they are severely punished.
Reporters Without Borders urges all of the many international bodies that have a presence in Pristina to express their support for Shala and to convey their concern to the Kosovar authorities. European Union special envoy Pieter Cornelis Feith cannot allow journalists to be threatened and sanctioned for covering EULEX’s activities in a professional manner and for doing investigative reporting that is extremely necessary in the newly declared country.
“We fully support Shala, who has been very strangely punished for professional conduct that constitutes the very basis of journalism and needs, more than ever, to be welcomed in Kosovo,” Reporters Without Borders added. “We urge the Kosovar media to show their support for her by raising the issues she highlighted as often as possible with the Kosovar and international authorities.”