Two Kosovar activists died at the hands of Serb police last month, shortly before they were due to go on trial charged with terrorism and other offences against state security. Adrian Krasniqi was gunned down in the street on October 16, and Jonuz Zeneli died two days later in a prison hospital in Belgrade, where he had been taken for treatment for injuries suffered in custody. Seventeen Kosovars were in the stand when the show trial - the third of its kind since May - began on October 27. Two more are being tried in absentia.
The trial comes at a time when tensions in Kosovo are high because of Kosovar student demonstrations against their exclusion from state educational facilities. Muslims in neighbouring Sandzak, the Muslim area straddling the border between Serbia and Montenegro north of Kosovo are also coming under pressure, accused of helping an opponent of Serb president Slobodan Milosovic to win Montenegro’s recent presidential election.
Krasniqi was killed in Kliqina village during the morning of October 16, according to local Kosovars. He was reportedly killed by a single shot in the genitals. He was wanted for ‘crimes’ against the Serbs and was due to be tried in absentia.
The Serb authorities and media, however, gave a significantly different account of his death. Serb police said that he had been killed during a terrorist attack on the police station in Peja the previous night, October 15. Serb television later showed his body lying in a pool of blood, with an automatic rifle over his shoulder, a hand-grenade in one hand and blood-spattered hard currency bills scattered around. Locals described the scene as having been faked in ‘a very naive manner.’
However, the alleged attack was then used as a pretext for extensive police raids on villages in the Peja area on October 16, in which numerous houses were attacked, residents beaten, including elderly people, women and young people, and property destroyed. These raids included the use of armoured vehicles and helicopters. There had been similar raids in the area only two days earlier, on October 13.
Jonuz Zeneli, a 55-year-old father of five, had been arrested along with hundreds of others when Serb police mounted a major security operation in January and February this year. He had been in custody ever since and was known to be in ill health due to mistreatment. He had been hospitalized a month earlier but appeals that he should be transferred to a civilian hospital had been refused and his death was not unexpected.
The deaths coincided with the publication of monthly figures by the Pristina-based Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms on October 16. These showed that the Council had recorded 451 cases of human rights abuses of Kosovars by the Serb authorities in September, and a total of 2,236 for the July-September period. The September figures include 148 cases of physical torture of prisoners and 122 cases of arbitrary arrest.
The main defendant in the latest trial is Nait Hassani, accused of being a leader of the supposed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). This group is blamed by Serb authorities for numerous acts of ‘terrorism’ against Serb policemen and others since 1995, but its very existence is doubted by most Kosovars, who suspect that it is simply a Serb invention to justify and cover their repression. Hassani was arrested at his home in January but Serb authorities denied holding him for over a month before admitting that he was indeed in custody. His official arrest date is now given as February 28, to indicate that he was charged within three days of arrest, as required by law.
The 16 other defendants in the dock are on trial for similar offences. All have been under arrest since January/February. Two defendants are being tried in absentia. The trial was adjourned on its first day until November 3. When it resumed, Hassani showed the court injuries he had suffered in police custody and said that his ‘confession’ had been extracted under torture. His treatment in custody has been so severe that he cannot even remember details of his imprisonment and interrogation. Other defendants have been similarly treated. Their trial is expected to last until late in the month.
This is the third show trial this year. While all have been held in public, with press and others present, they have been cursory and one-sided. All proceedings are in Serbian, which most defendants do not understand, and are not translated for their benefit. The trials are based largely on confessions extracted under torture, which defendants have withdrawn in court. Nonetheless, they have been convicted on this evidence alone.
Even the deaths of two defendants shortly before the trial opened follows a pattern. Another Kosovar, Besnik Restilica, died in jail in February, shortly before the first show trial. The authorities say he committed suicide; other defendants say he was killed to put pressure on them prior to their trial.
The student demonstrations, which are ongoing, began on October 1, the first day of the new academic year, with a massive demonstration of some 20,000 Kosovar students and teachers in Pristina. The students were protesting against their continued exclusion from the region’s educational facilities. The rally, which was the region’s first major demonstration of any kind for six years, and took place despite the opposition of Rugova’s government, was violently broken up by Serb police.
The demonstrations were resumed on October 29, when no progress had been made after the first demonstration. This time, smaller demonstrations took place in the Velania suburb where the unofficial, Albanian language university is based and in six neighbouring towns where different faculties are, including Peja, Ferizaj, Prizren and Podujeva.
The Velania demonstration, which was attended by international observers, passed relatively peacefully, but Serb police broke up demonstrations elsewhere, often with violence. In Prizren, four high school students were severely injured when an armoured police vehicle drove into the gathered students at speed. Despite such tactics, local people joined the demonstrations to show their support.
After the lack of progress following the October 1 meeting, student leaders announced that protests would be on-going from October 29 until further notice. They are continuing as we go to press.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1997