Media freedom watchdogs have expressed concern regarding the alleged pressure authorities in Kosovo are putting on KoSSev, an online news portal based in the Serb-majority town of North Mitrovica.
Journalists play a “key role” in the coronavirus crisis by providing “vital information” to the public, the representative on media freedom for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Harlem Desir, said in a statement on April 12, citing two recent incidents involving KoSSev.
“Access to information and a free working environment are therefore essential and need to be ensured at all times,” Desir added.
On April 11, KoSSev’s editor in chief Tatjana Lazarevic was briefly arrested for allegedly violating a curfew announced by the authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the Balkan country.
Lazarevic was on her way to a medical center treating patients affected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and presented her press credentials, but police took her in for questioning, according to the journalist.
Lazarevic now reportedly faces criminal proceedings, although working journalists are supposed to be exempt from the curfew.
The European Center for Press and Media Freedom on April 11 condemned Lazarevic’s arrest, saying journalists “must be able to continue working, even during the curfew.”
In another incident, the head of the Crisis Headquarters of North Mitrovica, Aleksandar Spiric, called out the news portal on April 9 for live-streaming an online press conference by officials overseeing the coronavirus outbreak.
“In particular, Spiric urged the portal not to cause instability by posing political questions, but instead to help the authorities in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to Desir.
The Association of Journalists of Kosovo on April 12 said that obstructing journalists’ work “is a pressure, not only on their work but also on freedom of expression.”
“This is also contrary to the constitution and Kosovo laws, as well as international conventions on human rights,” it added.