Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Haradinaj Judges Intervene at Eleventh Hour

Judges gave the green light to the controversial broadcast of a television interview with indicted former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, just five hours before it was due to air.
By Katy Glassborow
Judge Carmel Agius lifted the fiercely disputed ban on the interview on October 27 after a week of legal wrangling between prosecutors, his defence team and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.

It allowed Haradinaj to participate in a live interview that night, which was subsequently aired across Kosovo.

Haradinaj is on provisional release in Kosovo – pending the start of his trial in The Hague – and the terms of that release grant him leave to participate in “public political activities”.

It is up to UNMIK – which has administered Kosovo since 1999 – to decide whether to allow Haradinaj to participate in interviews. It had agreed to an October 17 interview by TV21 for a primetime broadcast the next night.

The timing was key, because it was just before a referendum due to take place in Serbia, in which the status of Kosovo was to be voted upon.

However, trial judges stepped in to quash this decision, after prosecutors alleged that the interview could intimidate witnesses due to give evidence against Haradinaj, and reinstate him “in a position similar to his former position as a political leader in Kosovo”.

The prosecutors also pointed to the power of television, saying it “penetrates into everyone’s living room”, arguing that if the interview was allowed, everyone would know “he is speaking with the authorisation and consent of UNMIK, and the international community”.

Michael O'Reilly, Haradinaj’s lawyer, told IWPR that the interview became a “huge issue in Kosovo as a result of [Hague chief prosecutor] Carla Del Ponte's intervention”. He said there were all kinds of false rumours, “for example that it was already recorded and that it contained something explosive”.

In a submission to the court on October 25, Haradinaj said UNMIK has fully complied with its agreement with the tribunal, and that there is “no sign that witnesses have been endangered” by his authorised political activities, “or will be because of the interview”.

The trial chamber reaffirmed its stance that UNMIK was in the best position to gauge what is in the best interest of promoting peace and reconciliation in Kosovo, and said that it sees “no need to intervene further in this matter”.

However, Judge Agius said that the explanation given in the UNMIK decision as to why it granted Haradinaj permission to appear on television was in this instance “too sparse”. The judge said that when authorising public appearances in the future, UNMIK should ensure it provides a “reasoned explanation” to the court.

O'Reilly told IWPR that the chamber's decision came very unexpectedly.

“We thought they would take at least a week to decide as the filings from both sides were very lengthy, and were very pleasantly surprised that the decision came so swiftly and decisively,” he said.

“The interest was immense, and Mr Haradinaj thought it best to get it done immediately – and TV 21 agreed.”

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.