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Former Kosovo Leader Cleared of War Crimes, Pussy Riot Videos Ruled 'Extremist'

Plus, Russia levels posthumous charges against Magnitsky, and Croatia sees its first anti-austerity protest.

by S. Adam Cardais and Nino Tsintsadze 30 November 2012

1. After Hague acquittal, former Kosovo leader receives hero's welcome

 

Ramush Haradinaj
Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovo prime minister and guerilla fighter, was acquitted at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal 29 November in a retrial of a 2008 verdict, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Greeted at Pristina airport by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, family, and hundreds of well-wishers, Haradinaj said at a press conference that the Hague tribunal had confirmed that Kosovo's "path to freedom was clean and just," Balkan Insight reports. Haradinaj was a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought a guerrilla war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s.

 

The Hague tribunal said there was no evidence of charges that Haradinaj committed crimes against humanity in 1998 and 1999. Prosecutors had accused him and two accomplices of attempted ethnic cleansing against the Kosovo Serb minority, Reuters reports.

 

After leaving the airport, Haradinaj visited with family before addressing a crowd of thousands in central Pristina during a fireworks display, Balkan Insight reports.

 

"It's been a while since I've talked to you," he said. "We have a lot to tell each other. We will work together starting today."

 

Haradinaj briefly served as prime minister in 2005 before stepping down to go to The Hague. He continues to lead the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party and touched on several political priorities in his 29 November remarks, including economic development and membership in the European Union and NATO, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Many observers say Thaci might restructure his governing coalition to include the Alliance, Reuters notes.

 

The most senior ethnic Albanian indicted at The Hague, Haradinaj was initially acquitted in 2008. Appeals judges ordered a retrial in 2010, saying the prosecution had not had time to make its case, according to Reuters.

 

The verdict comes shortly after the war crimes acquittals of two Croatian generals that angered Belgrade. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic decried Haradinaj's acquittal as "not based on law and justice" and suggested that regional relations could suffer as a result.

 

Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

 

2. Moscow court orders removal of 'extremist' Pussy Riot online videos

 

Four videos made by the dissident punk band Pussy Riot are extremist, a Moscow court ruled 29 November, according to Radio Free Europe.

 

Russian websites that do not remove the videos face a maximum fine of 100,000 rubles ($3,240), RFE reports. A representative for Google, which owns YouTube, said the company would block the content in Russia after receiving a court order, RIA Novosti reports.

 

One video shows a February performance at Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral against the rule of President Vladimir Putin, which prosecutors said fomented social disorder and offended Orthodox Christians, according to RIA Novosti.

 

 

Three band members were arrested for the performance, with two now serving prison sentences for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." Yekaterina Samutsevich, the third band member who was freed last month on a suspended sentence, said she will appeal the 29 November ruling.

 

A court spokesman said Samutsevich cannot appeal because she did no participate in the hearing. The court rejected her request to take part this week, RFE notes.

 

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church welcomed the ruling. It will take force next month unless appealed.

 

3.  Whistleblower Magnitsky posthumously charged with tax evasion

 

Anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009, has been charged with tax fraud, Radio Free Europe reports. Prosecutors said he evaded 522 million rubles in taxes.

 

Former Magnitsky client William Browder was also charged. Browder leads the London-based Hermitage Capital Management and is unlikely to return to Russia, RFE notes.

 

Sergei Magnitsky
Magnitsky was arrested in Moscow in 2008, days after accusing Russian authorities of embezzlement. He died in pretrial detention in 2009 after allegedly being beaten to death.

 

Browder has lobbied for a piece of U.S. legislation, passed in the House of Representatives this month, to penalize the Russian officials suspected in Magnitsky's death and other human rights violations. If the bill becomes law, "Magnitsky list" suspects will be denied U.S. visas, with any assets in the country frozen.

 

Earlier this week, reports emerged that a Russian businessman said to be helping Swiss authorities in an investigation of the corruption uncovered by Magnitsky was found dead outside his home in England.

 

4. Croatian educators, nurses strike over Zagreb's belt-tightening efforts

 

On 29 November, Croatian teachers and nurses held the country's first strike against government austerity measures, Reuters reports.

 

Unions said roughly 70 percent of the 100,000 people working in primary and higher education and hospitals joined the protest over reduced bonuses and salary cuts from 2013. This follows the government's move to cancel a collective bargaining agreement with public employees unions to renegotiate contract terms and cut nearly $400 billion from the 2013 budget, Reuters reports.

 

With Croatia in its fourth straight year of recession, the government is trying to stabilize the economy. Reuters reports that the budget deficit will fall to 3.5 percent of GDP this year from 4.4 percent in 2011.

 

Teachers say they will strike again if the government goes forward with education cuts.

 

5. Experts: Macedonia’s changed lustration law still violates rights

 

Despite being rejected once by a court and reshaped by legislators, Macedonia’s law on communist-era informers continues to violate the country’s constitution and human rights, a panel of experts concluded this week in Skopje, Balkan Insight reports.

 

The lustration law was originally meant to weed out public officials who had cooperated with the security services of the former regime, its sponsor told the group of legal experts, journalists, human rights activists, and politicians. But, he said, the ruling VMRO DPMNE party widened its scope to include journalists, clergy members, and civic activists.

 

Earlier this year, the Constitutional Court ordered that the law could not apply to those outside public office. The court also rejected a provision that would have penalized business people deemed to have continued to profit from such cooperation through 2019. The court limited the law’s applicability only to the period from 1945 to 1991.

 

In response, the government amended the legislation, but the version passed this summer “again envisages lustration of journalists, NGO activists, and others,” according to Balkan Insight. It also rolls back the provision on business people only to 2006 – 15 years beyond what the court permitted.

 

Skopje law professor Biljana Vankovska, who attended the roundtable, said the main shortfall of the law lies in the “weak, undemocratic, and politically influenced” institutions in Macedonia that are in charge of conducting the process.

 

“In the name of justice we are committing new injustices … and producing new victims [from the ranks of lustrated persons] … which spells the death of the principle of rule of law,” Vankovska said.

 

Other panelists questioned the evidence against accused informants.

 

“From my experience in the security forces, I know that many operatives were adding stuff to their reports that was not true, naming informants they never met. … And now we pronounce people as spies based on those documents,” a retired senior intelligence official said, according to Balkan Insight.

 

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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