By Petrit Kryeziu
When police in Gjakova picked up Agim Domgjoni and accused him of stealing from a factory three years ago, Officer Sejfedin Shkreli beat him so badly that he had to be sent to hospital, he told a court last month.
“Sejfefin ‘Sefa’ came to my home at 11pm,” Domgjoni told Balkan Insight. “He took me to the police station and beat me as hard as he could with punches and kicks to my stomach and then opened a drawer and showed me three wooden and plastic canes and asked me to ‘pick one’” he added.
“He then continued to beat me until I ended up in hospital.”
Domgjoni’s complaint is standard fare in Gjakova, where Balkan Insight has obtained similar allegations from 16 other witnesses who also said they experienced beatings at the station.
A report by the Council of Europe last month described beatings by Kosovo Police during arrests and at stations as a serious problem.
In the course of its visit, the delegation “received numerous and consistent allegations of physical ill-treatment by KP officers from persons who were or had recently been taken into custody,” the report said.
“The allegations concerned in the main punches, kicks and blows with batons at the time of apprehension, as well as slaps, punches, kicks [including to the genital], striking the person with hard objects, or squeezing of the hand with a pencil being placed between two fingers, and beating on the soles of the feet by police officers attempting to obtain confessions during questioning,” it added.
“In some cases, the severity of the alleged ill-treatment was such that it could easily be described as torture,” it continued.
“Overall, it would appear that the situation as regards to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty by the KP has stagnated if not deteriorated since the 2007 [Council of Europe] visit.”
The report added that in a number of cases the medical examinations of the persons concerned and medical files available “were fully consistent with the allegations of police ill-treatment”.
Agim Domgjoni was found not guilty of theft at the municipal court in Gjakova in October 2011, after which he decided to speak out on BIRN’s Justice in Kosovo show, which was aired a fortnight ago.
But instead of launching an investigation into police misconduct following the broadcast, Gjakova police last week arrested him again, accusing him of having “threatened” a police officer in one of the quotes he gave to Justice in Kosovo.
Pjeter Ndrecaj, another crime suspect who was later released, was also beaten at the police station in Gjakova, he said.
“They grabbed my hair and punched and kicked my face until my lips were cut and my nose broken,” he recalled.
“They sent me to Accident and Emergency but the doctor never released a report. The police officer told the doctor, ‘He’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with him’, and then we went back to the police station.”
Balkan Insight visited the regional hospital of Gjakova to secure the medical reports of persons who said they had been beaten by the police.
But the search was in vain; different departments at the hospital each claimed that another had the relevant documents.
Some of those claiming to have endured violent and unprovoked police beatings in the western Kosovo town were teens.
Dede Shabani was only 15 when police picked him up three years ago and took him to the station.
“Officer ‘Sefa’ doesn’t hold back,” was how 18-year-old Shabani recollected the assault. He was later cleared of wrongdoing.
Balkan Insight has obtained testimonies from 13 other alleged victims of recent police beatings in Gjakova.
They are Besnik Hoti, Ardenis Kamberi, Mirlind Hajra, Amir Vokshi, Enver Zeka, Shahidon Veseli, Bekim Dushku, Sylejman Meqo, Blend Cermjani, Albert Morina, Sokol Vokshi, Jozef Dushaj and Manol Deda.
In spite of the number of accusations of police beatings aired in court, prosecutors in the town have yet to take action.
The Chief Prosecutor of Gjakova, Shpresa Bakija, said she had now “requested all records from courts where defendants have complained of the use of force by the police.
“I will also ask prosecutors to explain why investigations have not begun on time,” Bakija said.
Lawyer Ergjynet Barbullushi, a regular at the town’s municipal court for criminal sessions, said police often maltreated his clients in the police detention centre.
“Many of my clients have been beaten several times by the police and I have informed the prosecutors and the court, but it has fallen on deaf ears,” Barbullushi said.
“The prosecution views the defendants as devils,” he added.
“They forget that defendants are only suspects and should enjoy equal rights before the law along with all other persons.”
Barbullusi also claimed that the police regularly questioned defendants without the presence of a lawyer, which is illegal.
“I had a case where I had to intervene at the level of the Chief District Prosecutor because police should not have been allowed to be present during the interrogation of my client when I was left to stand outside,” Barbullushi continued.
The Municipal Court of Gjakova has declined to comment on allegations that they use evidence obtained under duress.
But the director of the Kosovo’s Disciplinary Office for prosecutors, Kadri Begolli, said if the claims were proven, it would be both a violation of the law and a major ethical violation as well.
“We weren’t aware of these case [in Gjakova] but now we have been informed, we will initiate investigations to find out why they [prosecutors] have not undertaken work they are obliged to do by law,” Begolli said.
The commander of the police station of Gjakova, Bekim Avdija, told Balkan Insight that he required permission from the police spokesperson in Pristina to comment on the claims.
The spokesperson in Pristina then referred us to the regional police HQ in Peja, while police in Peja directed us back to Gjakova.