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Kosovo Journalist Faces Contempt Trial

Prosecutors ask for 15,000 euro fine for editor who revealed protected witness name in Haradinaj trial.
By Simon Jennings
Hague prosecutors this week accused the editor of a newspaper in Kosovo of showing “reckless indifference” towards the tribunal’s rules by publishing the name of a protected witness, but the defence argued that the witness’s identity was already a “public secret”.

Baton Haxhiu published a newspaper article that referred by name to a witness who was meant to be testifying anonymously at the trial of former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj.

Haradinaj, until recently prime minister of Kosovo, was acquitted on April 3 of charges relating to the murder, rape, torture and deportation of Serb civilians during the 1998-99 conflict. The court noted at the time that a “high proportion” of prosecution witnesses said they were afraid to give evidence.

“The trial chamber gained a strong impression that the trial was being held in an atmosphere where witnesses felt unsafe,” the final judgement says.

The indictment against Haxhiu accuses him of contempt of court on the grounds that he revealed the identity of a protected witness and that in doing so he “knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice”.

Haxhiu admitted publishing the witness’s name, but said the article “did not constitute a revelation of the name of the witness”.

The subject of the article, he said, was the tribunal’s investigation into allegations that the witness in question was pressured by Kosovo’s sport and culture minister Astrit Haraqija and his colleague Bajrush Morina. These two individuals were charged by the tribunal on April 25 for persuading the witness not to testify against Haradinaj.

“Given that Mr Haraqija and Morina were under investigation in this matter, I thought that the whole affair had become public, which in a way gave me the right to write about it publicly,” Haxhiu said.

Haxhiu was informed of the protected witness’s identity by an official with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, who subsequently left his post.

The editor argued that it was important to disseminate information about public figures because if citizens were “kept in the dark regarding the development and the activity of their political leaders, their life and future might be put in peril”.

“Never did I intend to threaten the witness or his family, and never did I want to undermine his evidence in the trial against Ramush Haradinaj,” he told the court.

“I have been a supporter of the view that this tribunal has contributed to the process of reconciliation throughout Yugoslavia and in Kosovo,” Haxhiu added.

The prosecution, which is asking for a 15,000 euro fine, called just one witness – tribunal investigator Peter Mitford-Burgess, who interviewed Haxhiu on February 6 in Pristina.

Mitford-Burgess testified that the accused said he had sought neither legal guidance nor the advice of the tribunal before publishing the name.

The prosecution said Haxhiu showed “reckless indifference” and “wilful blindness” to the tribunal order to protect the witness.

According to Mitford-Burgess, the accused admitted during the interview that he “was aware of the tribunal regulations” and that in publishing the name he “broke a rule of the tribunal”.

Mitford-Burgess also confirmed that the tribunal’s rules were available on its website in Albanian.

Prosecutor Vincent Lunny then showed the court a clip of Haxhiu giving a television interview in Kosovo earlier this month when he was on provisional release from custody in The Hague.

Haxhiu told the TV journalist what charges he faced at the tribunal and gave details of his custody, despite the fact that the terms of his release barred him from discussing his case with the media.

Responding to an objection from the defence that the video was not relevant to the trial, Lunny replied that the violation was “indicative of Haxhiu’s state of mind – his reckless disregard for the rules [of the tribunal]”.

The defence said that the video clip actually cast the accused in a positive light, since it showed him telling his interviewer he could not talk about the case.

Defence counsel Christian Kemperdick did not call any witnesses in defence of his client, but offered written statements as evidence.

He contended that the identity of the protected witness was already a “public secret”. The witness was known to certain Kosovans and therefore “it was not news” to read his name in the newspaper, he said.

Kemperdick argued that the name of the witness was not “disclosed” in the manner required for the tribunal to find the accused in contempt.

“Once [an identity] loses the characterisation of being a secret it cannot be disclosed any more,” he explained.

In its closing statement, the prosecution said the tribunal’s order to protect the witness’ identity “was not important to Haxhiu”. It claimed that the article itself proved he knew about the protective measures, because it twice refers to the witness as “protected”.

Kemperdick concluded by arguing for a lenient sentence, should the trial chamber find Haxhiu guilty.

He countered the prosecution’s argument that Haxhiu had repeatedly shown disregard for the tribunal, telling the court that he had testified twice on behalf of the prosecution and was a reliable witness.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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