The Serbian government's attack on human rights in Kosovo extended to human rights defenders this week, as a local human rights lawyer was arrested and then severely beaten by the police, Human Rights Watch said today. Another ethnic Albanian human rights activist entered her sixth week in prison.

Destan Rukiqi, who has defended dozens of ethnic Albanian political prisoners in Kosovo in recent years, was taken from the Lipjan prison to the Prishtina hospital yesterday with serious injuries to his kidneys. His wife, who visited but was not allowed to speak with her husband, said today that he is in serious condition and on dialysis.

"Mr. Rukiqi's beating is a direct message to the human rights community in Kosovo," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "It is intended to intimidate and silence those who are reporting on the government's atrocities."

Mr. Rukiqi was 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 International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Rukiqi was arrested on July 23 and sentenced that same day in an expedited procedure 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 Prishtina, Ms. Danica Marinkovic, after she had refused to let him view a case file of his client. The government tightly controls the judiciary and the police throughout Yugoslavia, especially in Kosovo. Judge Marinkovic has presided over a number of political trials against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in which the defendants were tortured.

Another local human rights activist, Ms. Zahrida Podrimcaku, was arrested in Prishtina on June 9, 1998. Ms. Podrimcaku had been investigating what happened on May 31 in the village of Poklek, where 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. Podrimcaku was charged with supporting terrorists and is awaiting trial.

According to local human rights groups, at least three hundred ethnic Albanians have been arrested and charged with committing terrorist acts, usually under Articles 125, 136 or 139 of the Yugoslav Penal Code.

"Testimony from Albanians who were arrested and then released, and now the beating of Mr. Rukiqi, tell us that these people are being subjected to torture," Ms. Cartner said.

Human Rights Watch called for an immediate investigation into the beating of Mr. Rukiqi and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.