by Lura Limani
After a 26-year-old opposition activist died in detention last week, Kosovo has demanded justice. Instead it got a televised national trauma and a lesson in terror.
Since Saturday, people have woken up to find out they live in a perpetual state of terror, where the death of a young man can be used not only to inflict pain, but also to convince all citizens that there is no safe place in Kosovo, not even a prison cell.
Astrit Dehari was detained on the suspicion of being a terrorist. Dehari and five of other young Vetevendosje activists, most of whom were students like Astrit, were suspected of having attacked the Assembly building with an RPG. They were arrested in August. Three of them are currently under house arrest, while the other two in prison. Vetevendosje has maintained that the allegations are false, that the case is a set up, while the prosecution has failed to come up with indictments three months after the arrests.
Kosovo is a country with severe whiplash from Serbian terror – in the former Yugoslavia, political dissidents (especially Kosovar Albanians) were jailed for terrorist acts or the intention to commit them. Political persecution seems believable, especially when suspects are stuck for months on end in prison with actual convicts. (By comparison, most terrorism suspects accused of participating in ISIS or Al-Nusra defended themselves from the comfort of their homes, that is, when they chose not to flee).
Regardless of whether Dehari was innocent or not, no detainee should be found dead in their cell. Even potential natural causes, such as a sickness, should be treated because – at least on paper – Kosovo does not have a death penalty. If Dehari was killed, no stone should be left unturned to find his killer and no court should deny that the state is responsible for his death.
If he killed himself, no pundit should call for the depoliticization of his death, because there is nothing more political than killing yourself in prison – nullifying your existence in the face of a unflinching state apparatus that can curtail your freedom.
On Thursday evening, national television station Klan Kosova covered Dehari’s death on its prime time talk show, moderated and produced by Baton Haxhiu. The show, Zona e Debatit,broadcast prison security tapes depicting what happened in the corridor of Astrit Dehari’s cell block on the day of his death. The leaked tapes weren’t given to Dehari’s family, which has demanded an independent investigation since his death occurred. In the tape, an unconscious Dehari is found by other prisoners returning from their daily walk (although we can only see the corridor, not the actual room). The guards are the last to arrive on the scene.
A crowd gathers at Dehari’s cell door, and many prisoners go in and out of the cell. Total chaos reigns for about five minutes. Finally, a guard arrives, but in the end it is the cellmates who actually carry Astrit’s unconscious body to another location.
The leak is terrifying and terrorizing. It shows very little, but means so much: this state operates in the shadows, and truth is only excreted in bits and pieces from the edges, never appearing in its fullness. While the authenticity of the tapes has not been confirmed (with the family’s lawyer disputing their credibility), the prosecution should at least wonder how such a leak can happen at all. When Gazeta Express published the video on the same evening, it claimed “we decided to post this to clarify any unclarity” as if it was the job of the media to investigate Dehari’s death and that of the general public to judge who is to blame.
The prosecution has failed Astrit Dehari. For five days chief prosecutor Syle Hoxha has been saying that the autopsy hasn’t been finalized yet, that the investigation is ongoing, that he hasn’t seen the security tapes. Now that the whole nation has watched them, I’m sure at least the latter will change. But make no mistake, the autopsy and investigation have also been affected.
There will be no real justice for Astrit Dehari, because the leaked tapes show that while the family cannot get to evidence about their son through official channels, the information will leak, will seep from the underworld to our mainstream media, to terrorize us all. The leaks will appear on Klan Kosova, or Gazeta Express, or some other website, to “inform us” of our own precarity – we are not safe anywhere. We are not safe in our schools, which have been crippled by illiteracy and fraud, we are not safe in our hospitals, plagued with one scandal after another, and we are definitely not safe in our prisons, where some prisoners build little“palaces,” while others inexplicably die.
To live under such conditions is to live in a state of perpetual terror. And somebody should be put in jail for that.