By Safet Kabashaj
Press freedom suffered a setback in Kosovo on Friday (June 22nd) when the assembly rejected a proposal to change two articles in the penal code that criminalises libel and allow journalists to be jailed if they do not reveal their sources.
Eight MPs, both from the majority and the opposition, voted against or abstained from the measure, preventing parliament from reaching the 61 required votes to remove the articles from law.
“Unfortunately, some primitive people [who] do not understand what press freedom means are still powerful and in decision-making positions,” Arben Ahmeti, head of the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo, told SETimes.
Immediately after the vote, Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Hajredin Kuqi resigned. He had promised his resignation to journalists if the law, sponsored by his ministry, went into effect.
“I’ve resigned because I want to look each journalist in the eyes, and I don’t want to be someone that undermines the freedom of media,” Kuqi said.
The assembly passed the code in April, but after protests from journalists and media watchdogs, President Atifete Jahjaga sent the law back to parliament for review and changes.
She called the proposal contrary to Kosovo’s constitution. “The [articles] undermine the freedom of media, and are in contrast to the efforts of Kosovo institutions to establish a democratic order,” Jahjaga said after Friday’s vote.
During an urgent meeting of the government, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci expressed his frustration in the vote. “I feel ashamed by this decision, which [included the votes of] some some members of [our] PDK party.”
He also requested a government initiative to revise the code, eliminating the two controversial articles. “As prime minister, [I] will never agree with laws that undermine press freedom,” he said.
Adem Grabovci, a PDK MP, supplied one vote against the removal of two articles from the penal code. He told journalists that the assembly supports the reformulation of the disputed articles, but not their removal.
Samuel Zbogar, the head of EU Office in Kosovo, warned that the assembly decision to retain the two articles leaves the country behind the rest of the region. Almost all of the neighbouring countries have removed provisions that penalise media for carrying out their duties.
Most recent was Macedonia, which earlier this year decriminalised libel.
“It is unfortunate that such a decision was taken despite continuous advice from the EU that these articles are in contradiction with [Union} conventions and the Acquis Communautaire that protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of media,” said Zbogar.
Ahmeti said his association will oppose the law — with protests and a request to the ombudsman to file the case with the Constitutional Court.
“Kosovo journalists will not stop their efforts to advance press freedom, democratise this society and fight primitivism,” said Ahmeti.