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Kosovo Protesters Rally For New Investigation Into Activist Death

Protesters hold portraits of activist Astrit Dehari in Pristina on November 5.

PRISTINA -- Thousands of demonstrators rallied in Kosovo’s capital to demand a new investigation into the death of activist Astrit Dehari, who died three years ago while in custody following his arrest on suspicion of involvement in an attack on parliament.

Protesters at the November 5 demonstration in Pristina shouted “prison killers” and held banners declaring “Justice for Astrit,” and “I am Astrit.”

Dehari family members and Albin Kurti, the leader of the leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, attended the rally.

Kurti, who is expected to become the next Kosovo prime minister after his party won the October 6 snap election, called for an independent investigation and for appropriate officials to be held accountable.

Dehari, 26, was arrested with five other members of the hard-line nationalist party in September 2016 on suspicion of being involved in a rocket-propelled-grenade attack on parliament on August 4, 2016.

The other four opposition figures, including a lawmaker, were convicted and sentenced in November 2017 to prison terms ranging from 2 to 8 years.

The attack was launched as lawmakers were preparing to vote on a border deal with neighboring Montenegro, a condition of getting visa-free access to the European Union. No one was injured.

Vetevendosje, the largest opposition party at the time, opposed the deal, saying it handed over about 8,000 hectares of Kosovar territory to Montenegro. A border deal was eventually ratified.

Dehari was found unconscious in his prison cell in November 2016 in the city of Prizren, where he was held on suspicion of terror-related charges relating to the attack on parliament. Authorities said he died on the way to the hospital.

Prosecutors said he had committed suicide and that no one else was involved, referring to an autopsy that determined that the "blockage of the upper respiratory tract" was "self-inflicted."

However, Dehari’s death triggered street protests after Vetevendosje labeled the death “murder by strangulation” and accused the government of failing to protect him.

During the rally, Vetevendosje leader Kurti called for a new investigation into the Swiss-born Dehari’s case after the Center of Forensics in Lausanne, Switzerland, raised suspicions about the man’s death.

The 58-page forensics report, released on October 24, concluded that “a new investigation is needed to clarify the circumstances of the death of Mr. Dehari.”

“The forensic hypothesis that [Dehari] committed suicide with certain tools has little truth, and the intervention of a third person in the fatal process should be taken into account,” the report said.

Dehari was born in the Swiss city of Bern, where his parents were living as political refugees. After the 1998-99 Kosovo war, the family returned to the country, where Dehari studied medicine in Pristina.

With reporting by AP and EN24