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Arrests Panic Albanians

Albanian lawyers claim dozens of innocent members of their community are being arrested on suspicion of terrorism
By Emin Azemi

Albanian teacher Ismail Ibrahimi never dreamt an invitation from the ministry of education in Skopje would lead to his arrest and detention.


The family of the Tanusevsci principal naturally tried to discover his whereabouts when he failed to return from the Macedonian capital. They eventually found out when Stevo Pendarovski, spokesperson for the interior ministry, confirmed his arrest later in the Albanian daily newspaper Fakti.


It transpired that Ibrahimi had been detained by Skopje police on the grounds that his car had been "packed with explosives and ammunition". According to the investigative judge, "he was planning a terrorist act aimed at endangering the constitutional order and the security of Macedonia".


He faces charges of terrorism under Articles 313 and 326 of the Criminal Code. His brother Rahman Ibrahimi protests his innocence.


In a separate incident in early March, Bejtulla Etemi's car was stopped by police on Makedonska Brigada Street in Skopje. He was arrested on the spot, but he told his wife, Lumnije, to go home, saying he was sure this was only a routine check and that he would soon be released.


Later, a plain-clothes policeman told his wife that a bomb had been found in his car. She tried to get further details of her husband's arrest at the police station but was sent home and told to await a phone call from officers.


When the phone did ring it was her husband asking her to find him a defence lawyer. At first she found it strange that he was talking to her in Macedonian, until it became clear that he was being ordered to do so.


His trial was set to start on March 27 but was later postponed. Lumnije believes it was delayed because her husband had been beaten and police didn't want him to appear in that condition.


"His lawyer told us that the trial would take place in Shutka prison," she said, "but I don't see how anyone can be tried inside a prison."


Ever since the latest crisis unfolded, the Macedonian authorities have claimed that ethnic Albanian insurgents were not homegrown but came from neighbouring Kosovo. This issue of whether they came from Kosovo or Macedonia itself has never been properly explained to the public.


It therefore came as a surprise when the Macedonian police and army, claiming victory after the recent offensive, started rounding up Albanians from Tetovo and the surrounding region on charges of being involved in "terrorist activities".


Macedonian newspaper reports say 22 Albanians have so far been detained.


According to Albanian lawyers, the figure is much higher: there are reports that over a hundred people have been arrested.


Mirjana Najcevska, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Skopje, said she's been told that the police are preventing Albanian detainees from contacting families and lawyers.


"We have appealed to the authorities to strictly follow procedures and not breach human rights laws," she said. " We intend to send our monitors once we establish where the detained people are being held."


Numan Limani, a lawyer representing some of those detained, also believes the authorities are acting out of hand, referring to the recent arrests as a "dirty game".


One client, primary school teacher Becir Sinani, was detained on March 20 and charged with possessing large amount of explosives. But Limani is convinced he was framed as the policeman who allegedly found the material failed to appear at his trial.


Limani's suspicions were further raised when he was denied access to his clients last week. He alleges that the reason police turned him away is because they have been beaten.


In an atmosphere of growing mutual mistrust between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, the news of random arrests is spreading like wildfire amongst the latter. Rumours and speculation over the number of actual people detained is feeding on people's fears


Emin Azemi is publisher and owner of "Fakti", an Albanian independent daily newspaper in Skopje.


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