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Kosovo Albanians on Trial for Contempt

Former government official and journalist accused of pressuring witness in trial of ex-Kosovo prime minister.
By Simon Jennings
Two men from Kosovo appeared before the Hague tribunal this week charged with contempt of court for attempting to persuade a protected witness not to testify at the trial of Ramush Haradinaj.

Haradinaj, the former Kosovo prime minister, was acquitted in April this year, after going on trial accused of committing atrocities against Serbs in Kosovo in 1998.

However, judges in the trial noted that witnesses scheduled to testify were afraid to come to The Hague as they feared for their safety.

This week, prosecutors said that Astrit Haraqija, Kosovo’s former minister for culture, youth and sport, was also guilty of incitement to contempt because he pressurised his co-defendant journalist Bajrush Morina into meeting the protected witness to ask him to change his evidence.

“In early July 2007, Haraqija instructed Morina to contact the protected witness in his country of residence [which was not revealed during the trial] and arrange for Morina and Haraqija to travel to that country ... The purpose of the visit was to convince the protected witness to change or withdraw his testimony against Ramush Haradinaj,” said prosecutor Dan Saxon in his opening statement.

“Go, or it won’t be good for you,” Haraqija ordered Morina, according to the prosecution.

Saxon said Morina was told to tell the protected witness that he was “one of three people who could save Ramush Haradinaj”.

In his opening statement, Haraqija told the trial chamber he was “quite offended to be here at the desk of the accused”, before recounting his political career. But judges interrupted his statement, deeming it irrelevant to his defence.

This week, the prosecution called four witnesses, including a police superintendent who was the head of the Witness Protection Unit in the western part of the country where the witness lives.

The superintendent, known only as Witness 1, told the court that he had been responsible for the safety of the protected witness.

The protected witness reportedly told the superintendent that Morina had contacted him to arrange a meeting without saying what it would be about. He later said the Kosovo minister for culture would also attend.

“I was curious and a little bit suspicious about this meeting and I asked the protected witness to go back to the journalist and ask what the meeting was about,” Witness 1 told the court.

Morina, however, did not say why he wanted to meet.

The prosecution entered into evidence recordings of telephone conversations and mobile phone text messages that Morina allegedly sent to the protected witness before their meeting, asking him to book a hotel for him and the minister.

While recordings of the telephone conversations were not heard in open court, Saxon read out text messages.

“‘Hello, my friend. Can you make a hotel reservation for the tenth and eleventh and for the minister only for July 11?’” said Saxon, as he read the message allegedly sent by Morina on July 6, 2007.

After consulting his superior and prosecutors in The Hague, the superintendent allowed the meeting to go ahead and the protected witness wore a recording wire to tape the conversation.

While Morina’s defence council questioned the legality of this practice, arguing it was a violation of privacy, the superintendent disagreed with him.

“As far as I know, and I refer to the law text I have before me, there is no law to convict anyone who is recording his own conversation,” he said.

The court then heard evidence from a second witness, known only as Witness 2, whose identify was disguised with face and voice distortion measures.

Saxon summarised Witness 2’s statement that Haraqija had tried to influence his testimony using Morina as a go-between.

“The goal of the message was to convince Witness 2 to withdraw his evidence from the trial of Ramush Haradinaj,” said Saxon.

But according to his statement, Witness 2 told Morina that if he testified he “would not change his evidence and he could not be bought”.

Under cross-examination by Morina’s lawyer, Jens Dieckmann, Witness 2 said he knew Morina in his capacity as a political journalist.

Asked about an article Morina had interviewed him for in 2002, the witness said Morina “made efforts to objectively present reality”. The witness also agreed “fully” with Dieckmann’s assertion that Morina was “a person of good character”.

Under cross-examination by Haraqija’s lawyer, Witness 2 confirmed that he had never met or spoken to Haraqija.

“I never contacted him but the messages came through Bajrush [Morina]. I didn’t have direct contact with him,” said the witness.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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