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Kosovan court rules for photographer

Vedat Xhymshiti

Vedat Xhymshiti

A MEMBER of London Freelance Branch has won a court ruling in his native Kosovo. Vedat Xhymshiti is an exiled journalist from Kosovo and has been living and working in the UK for the last six years. His documentary photography, focused on the politics of race, gender, identity, migration and conflict has appeared in the New York Times, Time, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde, Paris Match, Der Spiegel, Welt, VICE and Vanity Fair. On 16 November 2021 the Kosovo Court of Appeal published its ruling in Vedat's favour. In his own words:

On 14 January 2012, a police officer elbowed me and knocked me out while I was doing my job during a protest near the south-eastern border of Kosovo. After a brief recovery, I identified the police officer as the personal driver of the police commander for the Gjilan region - the unit on which I had been reporting.

I announced that I would be taking legal action against the state. On 20 January 2012 armed and masked police officers arrested me, claiming falsely that a court in the capital Pristina had issued a warrant for my arrest. I had received no earlier summons. I nevertheless went with them. A few minutes later, as we drove away from my hometown of Gjilan in the direction of Pristina, a policeman said: "Next time it may happen that you may not survive the outcome of the court decision..."

Still, on 14 May 2012 I filed a lawsuit against the government of Kosovo, seeking justice and accountability. On 16 May 2012 I had to flee the country, in the face of a rising tide of threats to my life. In April 2015, while I was in London for a conference, my house was once again raided and my family advised me to not return, concerned about my safety. Having been refused asylum in several countries, I applied in the UK and, with the help of Amnesty International, was granted it in December 2016.

Kosovo is a country in which where the media environment continues to be affected by political interference, corruption and financial pressure. Journalists who criticise the authorities are often branded “traitors” or “Serb sympathizers” or “spies”. At least eight journalists have been killed for doing their jobs - and no-one has yet been held accountable. In September 2016 journalist Fatmire Terdeci was shot in the shoulder - when she was pregnant.

I believe I am the first journalist to take the Kosovan authorities to court over their responsibility to permit us to do our job in safety.

In September 2015 the Municipal Court ruled that I had been physically and psychologically harmed, but refused to acknowledge that my human rights - guaranteed by the country's constitution - had been violated. The court refused to address who caused me harm.

So in November 2015 I took the case to the Kosovo Court of Appeal. At a public hearing on 16 November 2021 the Court of Appeal overturned the whole of the Municipal Court's ruling. The case will now go back to a lower court for re-hearing. This time I will be claiming compensation for the fact that I've been forced out of the country in exile for nine consecutive years.