The Court of Appeals on Tuesday turned down a request from Pristina to extradite former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA fighter Dritan Goxhaj to The Hague to face charges of “intimidation during criminal proceedings” and obstructing legal officials at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers war crimes court.
A first-instance court had initially accepted the request for Goxhaj’s extradition on September 19, after he was arrested in Tirana on an arrest warrant issued by the Specialist Chambers, where KLA ex-guerrillas are being tried for crimes committed during and just after the 1998-99 war.
The Court of Appeal’s reasoning has not been made yet and the prosecution can appeal against the decision at the Higher Court.
Goxhaj’s lawyer told BIRN in August that the former guerrilla had been charged over an article he wrote for a media outlet exposing the names of some of the potential protected witnesses in a war crimes trial of another ex-KLA fighter in The Hague.
However, Goxhaj’s appeal alleged that the prosecutor and first-instance judge had ignored Albanian law.
It also said that Goxhaj was being held in custody for the expression of “free speech” and that he had only aired his opinions about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the media.
It further claimed that the offences of which Goxhaj is accused are “political”.
The appeal described the extradition request as “a legal absurdity” as the Specialist Chambers are in The Hague and Albania does not have an extradition agreement with the Netherlands.
However, according to Kosovo law, the Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s justice system even though they are based abroad.
Goxhaj’s is the first case at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in which an Albanian from Albania has been arrested.
Witness protection has been a key concern for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers from the outset, and was one of the key reasons why the war crimes court was established outside Kosovo and staffed by internationals, although it is part of Kosovo’s justice system.
Previous trials of KLA ex-guerrillas both inside Kosovo and at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have been marred by the intimidation of witnesses. In some cases, even after they were relocated, they were approached by relatives or others trying to convince them to withdraw their initial testimonies.
The former leader and deputy leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation, Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, have already been jailed for obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses by the Specialist Chambers.
They were prosecuted after they received batches of legal documents leaked from the Specialist Chambers which contained confidential information about protected witnesses, including names and personal information, then held press conferences to urge media to publish extracts from the leaked files.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers are trying former KLA guerrillas for crimes including murder, torture and illegal detentions.
Among those already on trial are former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli, who were senior KLA figures during wartime. Both have pleaded not guilty to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Source : Balkan Insight