NATO Kosovo Force soldiers clash with local Kosovo Serb protesters in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023. Ethnic Albanian journalists covering the protests have been repeatedly attacked and harassed. (Reuters/Laura Hasani)

Ethnic Albanian journalists attacked, vehicles vandalized during Serb protests in northern Kosovo

Berlin, June 5, 2023—Kosovo authorities must investigate the recent attacks on multiple news crews covering protests in the country and ensure journalists can cover demonstrations safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

In late May, protests broke out throughout northern Kosovo over the election of several ethnic Albanian mayors to represent Serb-majority areas, after many Serbs had boycotted the elections.

More than a dozen ethnic Albanian journalists have been attacked or harassed while covering the protests, according to news reports and Xhemajl Rexha, chair of the independent trade organization Association of Journalists of Kosovo.

“Kosovo authorities must thoroughly investigate the recent attacks on news crews covering protests in the country and hold the perpetrators to account,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Kosovo authorities, as well as international NATO-led forces in the area, must ensure that members of the press can safely cover protests without fear of harassment or assault.”

May 29

In the northern town of Zvečan, a group of 15 to 20 Serb protesters approached about 10 Albanian-speaking reporters and demanded that they stop filming, according to news reports and Rexha. When the journalists refused, the protesters began throwing rocks and eggs and shouted ethnic slurs at them.

Masked individuals also attempted to seize a camera from a journalist with the Kosovo news Periskopi and tore the camera operator’s shirt, and three people wearing masks separately knocked a camera out of the hands of a journalist with the Kosovo news website Gazeta Papirus.

People also painted Serbian nationalist symbols on a parked car with the logo of the privately owned Albanian TV station Top Channel in Zvečan.

In the northern town of Leposavić, crews with the local broadcaster RTV Dukagjini, news website Kallxho, and the regional outlet Balkan Investigative Reporting Network found their cars vandalized with their tires slashed and painted with Serbian nationalistic symbols after they returned from reporting.

Protestors also slashed the tires and broke the windows of a car with the logo of the privately owned Kosovo TV channel TëVë 1 and set it on fire while the journalists covered protests in the northern town of Zublin Potok. 

May 30

In Leposavić, eight to 10 protesters, some wearing masks, approached news crews with RTV Dukagjini and the privately owned Kosovo website KOHA and demanded they stop filming. As the reporters continued to cover the demonstrations, protesters threw rocks and eggs and tried to block them from filming by putting their hands in front of their cameras. Protestors also took a camera from a TëVë 1 camera operator and broke it.

Also in Leposavić, four or five people threw bricks and stones at two cars, each marked as “Press,” while they were carrying journalists with the privately owned independent Albanian TV channels A2 CNN and News23, and the news websites Panorama and News24. No one was injured

A2 CNN reporter Jul Kasapi was later quoted by his employer saying that officers with the NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force, or KFOR, stood by and did not intervene.

In North Mitrovica, protesters took a mobile phone from Berat Bahtiri, a camera operator for privately owned Kosovo broadcaster RTV21. Police later found it destroyed, Rexha told CPJ. Bahtiri suffered minor injuries on his arms during a scuffle over the phone.

In the northern town of Zubin, protesters threw an explosive at a taxi containing a news crew with the Albanian service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, which did not damage the vehicle or result in any injuries.

Masked protesters in Zveçan shot at a car marked “Press” carrying camera operator Bledar Rexha and reporter Butrint Bejra, with the privately owned Albanian station Syri TV. One bullet hit the car, but no one was injured.

Also in Zveçan, unidentified people broke windows, punctured tires, and painted Serb nationalist symbols on two cars used by journalists with KOHA and the privately owned Kosovo TV station T7. Separately in Zveçan, people punctured the tires of two cars used by journalists with the privately owned Kosovo TV channels Kanal 10 and ATV, and also punctured the tires and shot bullets into a car, which was not marked press, used by journalists working for Periskopi.

May 31

An unknown individual punched RTV21 reporter Burim Zariq in the abdomen while he was recording protests in Zveçan. The journalist did not report any serious injury.

On June 2, CPJ joined 12 other press freedom organizations in a joint statement calling on Kosovo authorities to implement the necessary measures to guarantee reporters’ safety as they report on the protests. CPJ emailed KFOR and the Kosovo police for comment but did not receive any replies.