Head of public broadcaster attacked, threatened in Kosovo

New York, August 30, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned an attack late on August 28 on Mentor Shala, the director of Radio Television of Kosovo, or RTK, and calls on authorities to protect him in light of continuing threats to his life. A radical activist group claimed responsibility for the attack, in which an explosive device detonated in the backyard of Shala’s home in the Pristina suburb of Matican, according to news reports. Shala and his family were all inside the house when the attack occurred, Agence France-Presse reported, but no one was injured.

This was the second attack in one week against RTK, Kosovo’s public broadcaster. On August 22, a hand grenade exploded in the courtyard of RTK’s premises causing no injuries, according to Balkan Insight, the independent news website of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

A group calling itself Rugovasit claimed responsibility for the attack. In a message sent to RTK, Rugovasit threatened further violence if Shala did not resign his position. “The attack on Mentor Shala was only a warning,” RTK quoted the message as saying. “If he does not resign immediately from RTK, his life is in danger.”

The group said the attack was in retaliation for the broadcaster’s coverage of a border demarcation deal on which Kosovo’s parliament is to vote this week and in which, those opposing the deal claim, Kosovo would lose territory to Montenegro. The group called the broadcaster’s coverage of the deal one-sided.

“We call on the government of Kosovo to swiftly and effectively investigate the attack and the continued threats against Mentor Shala and the RTK broadcaster; find and bring all those responsible to justice; and ensure Shala’s personal safety and that of his staff,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “If those who have threatened and tried to intimidate Shala get away with it, journalists will likely be faced with further violence.”

Tensions have grown in recent months in Kosovo, a Balkan country of 2 million which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, over a border agreement with Montenegro which is one of the prerequisites for Kosovo’s path to integration into the European Union. The deal has prompted violent rallies across Kosovo which culminated in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on parliament this month by suspected nationalists, according to news reports.

In their note to RTK yesterday, the Rugovasit group said the attack on Shala was because he had allegedly ignored opposition voices in the broadcaster’s coverage. “We appeal to the government to take us seriously and not approve demarcation, otherwise there will be victims,” RTK quoted the group as saying.