Arbitrary detentions and arrests of ethnic Albanians have escalated rapidly throughout 1998. Until late September, the precise number of individuals in custody at any given time had been impossible to determine since the Yugoslav authorities refused to provide detailed information, despite specific inquiries from Human Rights Watch.66 On September 23, Serbian Minister of Justice Drogulub Jankovic stated that criminal investigations had been opened against 927 individuals in five local courts of Kosovo and one court in Prokupleall of them on charges of terrorism or enemy activities against the state. According to the minister, 538 of these people are currently in detention.67 It was later reported that as many as 325 ethnic Albanians had been arrested between September 22 and 26, although it was unclear how many of these individuals remained in custody as of this writing.
In July and August, detained individuals increasingly included human rights activists, humanitarian aid workers, political party members, doctors, and lawyers, many of whom were physically abused in custody. Human Rights Watch has substantial credible evidence from lawyers and family members of detainees that detainees are routinely tortured and ill-treated. From March to August 1998, five people are known to have died while in police custody; hundreds of others have been beaten. Human rights and humanitarian agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, report restricted access to detainees.68
According to the Yugoslav government, a round of trials will begin in October, and eight judges will be sent to Kosovo to deal with the high case load.69 In the past, terrorism-related trials have been marred by serious procedural irregularities, as well as the use of torture to extract confessions.70
Human Rights Watch obtained the following general information on arrests:
· According to Adem Bajri, a lawyer in Pec who works with the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, as of September 21, 251 ethnic Albanians were in the Pec jail facing charges of terrorist activity. Criminal charges hadbeen filed against 510 others who remain at large. Mr. Bajri told Human Rights Watch that he has twenty-four clients in prison, all of whom are facing charges of terrorism. Mr. Bajri has been allowed to visit his clients and said that virtually all show signs of torture, including injuries such as bruises on the body and broken bones.71
· According to Albanian press reports, on July 20 the police stopped a bus near Podujevo that was traveling to Kosovo from Slovenia. Fifty-four ethnic Albanians who had been working in Slovenia were initially arrested. On August 17, thirty-nine were released. A lawyer who visited them on July 29 in Prokuple prison, which lies about twenty-five miles outside Kosovo in Serbia proper, told Human Rights Watch that he saw clear signs that they had been beaten.72 The other fifteen remain in detention charged with terrorist acts based on Articles 125 and 136 of the Serbian Penal Code.73 At the time of arrest, the police took from them a total of 352,018 DM.
· On May 23, eight students from the Pedagogical High School Xhevdet Doda in Prizren and one student from the University of Pristina, all of them members of the Students Independent Union, were arrested in Prizren. On June 8, they were charged with KLA membership and committing terrorist acts. On August 24, they were convicted of enemy activity against the state because they had organized first aid courses in Prizen and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to seven and a half years. Four of the students were also charged with having contacted the KLA. The lawyer for some of the students, Hazer Susuri, told Human Rights Watch that two of his clients, Bylbyl Duraku and Sejdi Bullanica, had been beaten in pre-trial detention. According to Mr. Susuri and an international observer who monitored the trial, the entire proceedings lasted four and a half hours. The conviction was based entirely on the confessions of the students. Their sentences were as follows:74
Nijazi Kryeziu (aged twenty-one; sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment)
Aqif Iljazi (aged twenty-one; sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment)
Bylbyl Duraku (aged twenty-two; sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment)
Sejdi Bellanica (aged twenty-three; sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment)
Defrim Rifaj (aged twenty-two; sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment)
Behare Tafallari (aged twenty-two; sentenced to two years imprisonment)
Jehona Krasniqi (aged twenty-two; sentenced to two years imprisonment)
Leonora Morina (aged twenty-one; sentenced to two years imprisonment)
Sherif Iljazi (aged twenty; sentenced to one year imprisonment)
· According to the Serbian police, after intense fighting with the KLA in Orahovac, they arrested 223 ethnic Albanians suspected of terrorism. All of them except twenty-six were reportedly released after questioning.75
· On September 4 and 5, the Serbian police detained more than 600 ethnic Albanians from around the villages of Ponorac, Ratkovac, and Drenovac who had been internally displaced because of fighting.76 According to diplomatic sources who spoke with witnesses, the women and children were released and the men were taken to the Ponorac schoolhouse, where they were filmed by Serbian state television as captured terrorists. Most of the men were reportedly released onSeptember 5 but an estimated forty people remained in police custody. Human Rights Watch saw photographs of the alleged terroristswhich showed a large group of men on their knees with the hands behind their heads being guarded by armed police officers.
· On September 24, the Media Center in Pritina reported that, according to the police, 194 ethnic Albanians had been arrested on September 22 and 23 during a police action in the Cicavica Mountains northwest of Pritina. The authorities have opened investigations against those arrested. In contrast, on September 26, the Albanian daily Koha Ditore cited Ministry of Interior spokesman Bozidar Filic as saying that 325 Albanians had been arrested.77
Some individual cases are outlined below:
Destan Rukiqi, a lawyer in Pritina who has defended dozens of ethnic Albanian political prisoners in Kosovo in recent years, was arrested on July 23, 1998, and sentenced that same day in a summary proceeding to the maximum sixty days in prison for disturbing public order (under Article 6, paragraph 3 of the Serbian Law on Public Order). The arrest was related to an incident that morning, when Rukiqi had raised his voice at a district judge in Pritina, Ms. Danica Marinkovic,78 telling her, I am in the court but you are acting like the police, after she had refused to let Rukiqi take notes while reviewing the case file of his client, Cen Dugolli (see below).
Mr. Rukiqi was severely beaten on his third day in detention by policemen at the Pritina prison. He told Human Rights Watch that he was held down and beaten on his hands, feet and kidneys with a three-foot long rubber baton. Over the next two weeks, he underwent dialysis eleven times.79 Mr. Rukiqis sentence was reduced by the Serbian Supreme Court to thirty days, and he was released on August 22.
Rukiqi had been involved in a number of human rights related cases, and had provided information on war crimes committed by Serbian special police forces in Kosovo to the ICTY in the Hague.
Ms. Zahrida Podrimçaku, an activist with the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Glogovac, was detained by police in Pritina on June 8, 1998, together with Ibrahim Makolli, who works at the councils offices in Pritina.80 Mr. Makolli was released after a few hours of questioning, but Ms. Podrimcaku remained in custody and was denied contact with a lawyer or her family for several days. On June 12, she was charged with committing terrorist acts (Articles 125 and 136 of the Serbian Penal Code). Ms. Podrimçaku had been investigating what happened on May 31, 1998, in the village of Novi Poklek, when police detained ten ethnic Albanian men during an attack on the village. The body of one of the men, Ardian Deliu, was found the next day, while the other nine men remain missing and are presumed dead. Podrimçaku was charged with supporting terrorists and is awaiting trial in Lipljan prison. Her lawyer, Mrs. Lirije Osmani, has been allowed to visit, and reported that Ms. Podrimcaku had been physically maltreatment.81
LDK Activists from Urosevac
On July 31, 1998, seven activists of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) in Urosevac were detained, interrogated, and beaten by the police, according to the LDK. Milazim Haliti and Fatmir Sylejmani, members of the LDK presidency were arrested at their offices in the morning. Adem Salija, chairman of the local LDK presidency and member of the Kosovo Parliament, was arrested in the afternoon, as was Agim Recica, chairman of the local LDK sub-branch in Urosevac.
Mrs. Besa Arllati, chairwoman of the LDK information commission in Dakovica, was arrested on May 26 and brought to the police station in Dakovica, where she was interrogated and beaten by police chief Sreten Camatovic.82 Police reportedly wanted to know about two Serbian policemen, Nikola Jovanovic and Rade Popadic, who they believed had been seized by the KLA. Arllati was detained and interrogated on and off for the next few days, until June 1, about the work of the KLA and the activities of Albanians in the area.
Dr. Fehmi Vula
Dr. Fehmi Vula, a surgeon at the Dakovica hospital, member of the Dakovica LDK presidency and member of the shadow Kosovo Parliament, was arrested on May 29, 1998. On June 3, a Prizren court extended his detention to thirty days to investigate possible terrorist acts as defined in Article 136 of the Serbian penal code. As of September 1, Dr. Vula was in detention awaiting trial.
Mrs. Mevlude Sarraqi, member of the LDK presidency, head of the LDK Womens Forum, and a member of the Kosovo Parliament, was arrested on June 1 and charged with Association for the purpose of hostile activity under Article 136 of the Serbian penal code. She was arrested in advance of a rally organized by the Womens Forum to protest the detention of LDK activists, such as Dr. Vula and Besa Arllati. She is currently in Lipljan prison.
Deaths in Detention
· Cen Dugolli, an activist with the Democratic League of Kosovo in Urosevac, died on August 17, 1998, in Pritina Hospital, from beatings sustained while in detention. According to his family, the police arrested Cen and his neighbor, Haxhi Bytyqi, at 8:00 a.m. on June 21, 1998, from their homes in Urosevac. Cen was taken to the Gnjilane prison a few days later and then transferred to the Pritina prison. He was taken by police to the Pritina hospital on August 16 and died the next day from internal injuries, according to the official autopsy report seen by Human Rights Watch. Dugollis family told Human Rights Watch that they first visited Cen on July 1 in Pritina prison and that he showed signs of physical abuse, such as bruises on the face. The family was supposed to visit Cen on August 17 but was not allowed in by the prison guards. That night they learned from the Albanian Satellite Television News from Albania that Cen had died.83 Human Rights Watch saw photographs of Mr. Dugolli that showed severe signs of torture, including deep bruising that covered large parts of his body.
Dugollis lawyer, Destan Rukiqi, was arrested on July 23 for insulting Judge Danica Marinkovic while trying to review Dugollis case file. Rukiqi himself spent thirty days in prison and was severely beaten on the kidneys while in the Lipljan prison (see above).
· Rexhep Bislimi, an activist with the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Urosevac was arrested on July 6, 1998, from the street in Urosevac, and died on July 22, from beatings he sustained while in detention. According to Bislimis family, the police brought Rexhep back to his house on July 7 and made him dig some holes in the garden to look for weapons they thought he had hidden there, but they found nothing. Members of the family told Human Rights Watch that Rexhep had bruises on his face, as well as blood.84 Three days later, the family learned thatRexhep was in Gnjilane prison, but they were never allowed to see him. On July 19, the family learned that Rexhep had been taken to the Pritina hospital, but they were again not able to see him because two policemen were guarding his hospital room. Rexhep died on July 21 due to, according to the official autopsy report, constusio capitis et corporis. Human Rights Watch saw a photograph of Mr. Bislimi that showed severe bruising on large sections of his legs and torso that were consistent with allegations of torture.
· According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, Adem Berisha from Bruc village, died on August 18, 1998, in the Prizren hospital reportedly from injuries inflicted by police during his detention in Prizren. He had been arrested on the Dragas-Prizren road on August 16.
· According to Albanian media reports, on August 29, around 11:00 p.m. forty-seven-year-old Bilall Shala from Uroevac died while in police custody. Shala was arrested in Uroevac on August 28 together with his son, Agron, who was released later that day, reportedly after having been beaten by the police. Bilalls brother, Zenel Shala, told the Albanian media that he was informed on the evening of August 28 that his brother had died and was in the Pritina city morgue.85
· According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, on August 23 Maksut Qafleshi from Belobrade died as a result of police torture he sustained in Urosevac.86 Maksuts brother told the Council that Maksut was arrested and beaten by the police on the road between Prizren and Urosevac, and was then taken to the police station in Urosevac, where he was denied medical treatment. He was later transferred to the hospital in Pritina, where he died.66 Human Rights Watch letters to Yugoslav Minister of Internal Affairs Zoran Sikolovic and Yugoslav Minister of Justice Zoran Knezevic, July 20, 1998. 67 Blic, September 23, 1998. 68 ICRC Position on the Crisis in Kosovo, International Committee of the Red Cross, September 1998. 69 NT Plus, September 18, 1998. 70 See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Persecution Persists: Human Rights Violations in Kosovo, December 1996, and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Condemns Political Trial in Kosovo, Press Release, July 15, 1997. Yugoslav laws guarantees all defendants the right to due process. Article 23 of the federal constitution forbids arbitrary detention and obliges the authorities to inform a detainee immediately of the reason for his or her detention and to grant that person access to a lawyer. Article 24 obliges the authorities to inform the detainee in writing of the reason for his or her arrest within twenty-four hours. Detention ordered by a lower court may not exceed three months, unless extended by a higher court to a maximum of six months. Article 25 outlaws torture against a detainee, as well as any forcible extraction of confessions or statements. The use of force against a detainee is also a criminal offence.
71 Human Rights Watch interview with Aden Bajri, Pec, September 21, 1998.
72 Human Rights Watch interview with Bajram Krasniqi, September 19, 1998.
73 Republic of Serbia Prosecutors Office, Kt. Nr. 55/98, July 23, 1998, Prokuple, signed by District Prosecutor Miroslav Nikiolic.
74 Human Rights Watch Interview with Hazer Susuri in Prizren on September 21, 1998.
75 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report from the Human Rights Field Operation in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Republic of Croatia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, August 7, 1998.
76 Ljubomir Milasin, Hundreds of Kosovars Detained, UNHCR Warns of Bosnia Spectre, AFP, September 8, 1998, and Tanjug, September 6, 1998.
77 Koha Ditore, PB e Serbise: Ka perfunduar aksioni ne Qyqavice, jane arrestuar 325 shqiptare, September 26, 1998.
78 Judge Marinkovic has presided over a number of political trials against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in which the defendants were tortured. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Persecution Persists: Human Rights Violations in Kosovo, December 1996, pg 22.
79 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Destan Rukiqi, August 23, 1998.
80 Podrimcakus arrest occurred about one hour after she had spoken with a Human Rights Watch researcher about her investigations in Novi Poklek.
81 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Behxhet Shala, executive secretary of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, August 21, 1998.
82 Humanitarian Law Center, Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict, Spotlight Report No. 27, August 5, 1998.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with the Dugolli family, Urosevac, September 25, 1998.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with the Bislimi family, Urosevac, September 25, 1998.
85 One More Albanian Dead From Prison Torture, Arta, August 30, 1998, and Another Albanian Detainee Dies of Police Torture, KIC, August 30, 1998.
86 "Within Two Months Five Albanians Die in Serbian Prisons, Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, September 1998.