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Kosovo 'War Rape' Photo From Porn Site Prompts Uproar


President Hashim Thaci (right) sidestepped questions about the display of the image by Flora Brovina (left).

PRISTINA -- Ahead of the Kosovar parliament's plenary session on Serbian war crimes, a lawmaker waved before reporters a graphic image that she claimed showed Serbian soldiers raping an Albanian woman who, she said, currently lives in Kosovo.

The photograph brandished by Flora Brovina, however, was in fact a still from an adult film that was posted online as early as 2008 and, according to reverse-image searches and descriptions on pornographic websites, features a war-rape motif apparently set in Iraq.

Now Brovina, a respected rights activist with the ruling Democratic Party, is facing fierce criticism from fellow lawmakers and civic activists who accuse her of traumatizing sexual-violence survivors and undermining advocacy efforts on their behalf.

Brovina's decision to show the photograph in parliament on May 16 has "shaken Kosovo's society as a whole, especially the families and survivors of sexual assault," Feride Rushiti, founder and head of the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, tells RFE/RL.

"We have received many phone calls from the survivors who receive services here, from their husbands, asking to call upon media to remove that photo," adds Rushiti, whose activism led to a landmark government ruling on awarding pensions to victims of Kosovo wartime sexual violence.

Officials and nongovernmental organizations say 20,000 women and men in Kosovo were victims of rape by Serbian forces during the 1998-99 war. Human Rights Watch says the crimes -- primarily committed by paramilitary forces -- were "used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population." Kosovar militants also faced rape accusations, though the number of crimes is believed to be far lower.

Social stigma surrounding rape has contributed to reluctance among survivors to open up about the abuse they suffered. A government commission says some 1,000 women have applied for recognition as sexual-violence victims under a 2017 law that would grant them reparations. Officials have considered more than 500 applications, granting recognition in 336 cases.

'Don't Use Our Pain'

Brovina showed the printout of the graphic image to reporters in parliament shortly before lawmakers adopted a resolution on "genocide, crimes against humanity, and the war crimes of the former Serbian state regime in Kosovo" during the 1998-99 war.

After local media quickly determined it had been taken from an adult video that purported to be shot in Iraq and was posted on pornographic websites, Brovina defended her claim in an interview with Dukagjini TV in Pristina.

Brovina, who was abducted and imprisoned by Serbian forces during the war, said in the interview that she "was convinced that the photo was not a fake" and that she would hand over the information to prosecutors.

She repeated her earlier claim in parliament that "the victim from the photo is alive and is in Kosovo."

The furor over the photograph reverberated across Kosovo's political landscape.

Pristina Mayor Shpend Ahmeti, leader of the Social Democratic Party, accused Brovina of harming both sexual-violence victims and Kosovo itself. He suggested her use of a fake image would be used to claim rape accusations against Serbian forces were fabricated.

Former President Atifete Jahjaga wrote on Facebook that Brovina had dealt a "severe blow" to "thousands of survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo."

Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman, the first survivor to speak publicly about being raped during the Kosovo war, wrote in a May 16 tweet, "Don't use our pain and suffering for your own gain."

Kosovo's current president, Hashim Thaci, meanwhile, sidestepped questions about Brovina's display of the photograph when asked by reporters on May 17. He responded by accusing Serbia of widespread human rights abuses during the war and echoing the resolution adopted in parliament the previous day.

"Kosovo alone is a picture of Serbian genocide in 1998-99," Thaci, a former Democratic Party leader, told reporters in Pristina.

'Forged Document'

Kosovo's special prosecutors announced that they would investigate the claims made by Brovina concerning the photograph and the alleged victim.

But after being questioned by investigators on May 17, she appeared to concede that she may have unintentionally passed off a "forged document" as evidence of a real rape.

"An activist gave me the document in an envelope and said that I could use it -- and that the person on it was alive," Brovina told reporters in front of parliament. She said she should could not remember the activist's name.

Drita Hajdari, the special prosecutor, said that Brovina told investigators she believed in the authenticity of the photograph and that's why she decided to publicize it. Hajdari also said Brovina did not report the alleged crime to police, saying she wasn't aware she was obligated to report it.

Brovina, meanwhile, apologized publicly, in particular to victims of wartime rape and their families, saying she accepted blame for not verifying the authenticity of the image.

"I never thought that someone could present documents that are not verified, and thus I had the courage to use them. I didn't believe that this document could be something that is not accurate," Brovina said.

She added: "The authenticity of the document will be verified by state authorities. I stand at their disposal at any time."

Amra Zejneli of RFE/RL's Balkan Service reported from Pristina; Carl Schreck reported from Prague
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