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Kosovo Men Deny Witness Intimidation at Hague War Crimes Court

In separate hearings at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on Monday, Ismet Bahtjari and Sabit Januzi both pleaded not guilty to witness intimidation charges.

“I plead not guilty to any charges raised against me,” Jonuzi, 60, from Fushtice e Poshtme/Donja Fustica in Kosovo, told the court.

Bahtjari, 57, from Bervenik/Brvenik, pleaded not guilty before Jonuzi.

The two men are accused of “obstructing official persons in performing official duties” by using “serious threats”, as well as “intimidation during criminal proceedings”.

The indictment says that from April 5 to April 12, 2023, Bahtjari and Januzi provided assistance to each other, to a co-perpetrator whose name was redacted and to others in order to intimidate an unnamed witness.

The witness was pressurised “to withdraw evidence or refrain from providing evidence in KSC official proceedings”, according to the charges.

The indictment does not specify in which case at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers the witness who was allegedly intimidated will or has testified.

This is the fifth case at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the second that is related to witness intimidation.

Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, War Veterans’ Organisation leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj were convicted in May 2022 of obstructing justice and intimidating protected witnesses by revealing their identities.

At Monday’s hearing, Jonuzi complained to the court that his arrest in the early morning on October 5 in front of his house “was unnecessary”. He said that he would have answered the court’s summons as he answered a previous summons to be interviewed at the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, on October 4.

“I was arrested on the fifth of October in the morning, on the fourth I was summoned to appear in the EULEX offices for a statement, I went voluntarily… I took a bus to go there,” he told the court.

He added that “if I had been informed that it would be necessary for me to go to The Hague it would not be a problem because I always answer court summons”.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up to try former KLA fighters for wartime and post-war crimes from 1998 to 2000, including murder, torture and illegal detentions.

Witness protection has been a key concern for the Specialist Chambers after incidents of witness-tampering at previous trials of KLA commanders.

Source : Balkan Insight