Albin Kurti found guilty for organizing a protest in Priština in February 2007

A mixed Trial Chamber of the District Court in Priština, presided by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) appointed Justice Ferdinando Boatier de Mongeot, handed down a sentence on June 14, 2010 sentencing Albin Kurti, leader of the Samopredeljenje/Vetëvendosje movement to nine (9) months in prison for a criminal act of being a member of a group obstructing a law enforcement officer, Article 318, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Provisional Criminal Code of Kosovo. The accused Albin Kurti was immediately released from detention due to the fact that he had spent eleven (11) months in prison and in house-arrest in the course of 2007 and at the beginning of 2008, which is more than the prison sentence determined by the Trial Chamber.

The Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo believes that the fact that the District Court in Priština/ Prishtinë handed down a compromising sentence for the accused Albin Kurti must in no way terminate the process of establishing the responsibility of those accused for the February 2007 protest in Priština/ Prishtinë. HLC Kosovo believes that determining the responsibility for the organization of violence on the streets of Priština/ Prishtinë, the loss of two lives, imposing proper sentences on perpetrators, seeing justice being done, and offering satisfaction to the families of the two killed protesters should continue to be the focus of Kosovo judiciary. In that context, HLC Kosovo is convinced that the end of the trial of Albin Kurti should open the door for establishing the truth about these events and the responsibilities of all participants. That is the only way to see justice done.

The Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo perceives the outcome of this trial as a result of a compromise made by the Office of the Prosecutor in their attempt to end the case of the accused Albin Kurti. Further criminal prosecution of Albin Kurti with respect to the allegations contained in the original indictment would have been pointless from a legal point of view, while, on the other hand, it would have created an increasing space for political promotion of the accused Kurti and his movement. In his closing argument, the Prosecutor was demonstrably out of line asking the Court to take into account any extenuating circumstances. The Trial Chamber also found a compromising solution in determining the sentence for the accused Kurti – the Trial Chamber found the accuse guilty as charged but only sentenced him to nine months in prison, which was two months shorter than the amount of time the accused had already spent in detention and in house arrest, although the maximum sentence provided by the law for a criminal offense of this kind is three years i.e. five if the accused is the leader of the incriminated group. At the time the sentence was pronounced, the Trial Chamber invoked a provision contained in Article 66 of the Provisional Criminal Code of Kosovo specifying circumstances that allowed the Court to impose a less severe sentence, i.e. a sentence well below the legal minimum sentence for the criminal offence in question, indicating that the reasons for such a decision would be explained in the written sentencing document. Should such decision become legally binding, the accused Kurti could request a financial compensation for the two months he had spent in prison/house arrest before he was sentenced which would cover trial expenses he was ordered by the Court to pay. Although the accused chose to defend himself by silence during the trial, in his closing argument, the accused denied the allegations of the indictment. During the proclamation of the sentence, the accused Kurti remained in his seat, thus demonstrating his disrespect for the Court.

The trial of the accused Albin Kurti began on February 10, 2007. He was detained after the demonstrations organized by his Samoopredeljenje/Vetëvendosje movement in Priština/ Prishtinë protesting the signing of the “Ahtisaari” plan for Kosovo. An indictment raised on May 31, 2007 charged Albin Kurti of the following criminal acts: participation in a group committing criminal acts from Article 320, paragraph 2; participation in a group obstructing law enforcement officers conducting their official duty as stipulated in Article 318, paragraphs 1 and 2; and instigating revolt as stipulated in Article 319 of the Provisional Criminal Code of Kosovo. The first main hearing was held on September 19, 2007 before an international trail panel consisting of UNMIK judges. The trial was interrupted after seven trial days due to the fact that the accused Kurti refused to retain an attorney and refused to cooperate with a court-appointed defence counsel. Most lawyers of the Bar Association of Kosovo refused to represent him because of their inability to communicate with the defendant in spite of possible measures against them threatened by the Trial Chamber

As the trial went on along with numerous procedural difficulties, the public in Kosovo started demonstrating their solidarity with the leader of the Samoopredeljenje/Vetëvendosje movement because of the fact that during the protest organized on February 10, 2007, a Romanian unit of the United Nations police force had used rubber bullets which had killed two members of this movement. These UN police officers, who had been protected by the standard immunity applied to all UN peacekeeping troops, and whose identity had been kept confidential, were soon after relocated from Kosovo, which resulted in the disruption of the investigation aimed at establishing their responsibility for the death of the two protesters. Since the indictment brought up against the accused Albin Kurti implied mandatory legal representation of the accused, the main hearing was postponed until after the Trial Chamber obtained the suggestions from the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN, UNMIK’s Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice of Kosovo, and the President of the Supreme Court of Kosovo. In the meantime, in February 2008, Kosovo declared independence and after years of UNMIK administration of Kosovo judiciary, EULEX took over. On February 15, 2010, following a two-year-long break, a EULEX trial chamber opened a retrial in the Albin Kurti case on the same indictment. The main hearing was re-scheduled ten times mainly because the accused did not appear in court as ordered, partly because of the fact that the police failed to bring the accused to the court for main hearings, because of the refusal of members of the Kosovo Bar Association to represent the accused in the capacity of court-appointed attorneys, and because of the refusal of the accused to cooperate with retained attorneys. It was only on June 12, 2010 that the Kosovo Police arrested the accused Albin Kurti in the offices of the Samoopredeljenje/Vetëvendosje movement.

During the main hearing held on June 14, 2010 Kosovo Special Prosecutor gave up two counts of the indictment: participating in a group committing criminal acts (Article 320) and instigating revolt (Article 319). From that point on, the proceedings went on smoothly since the remained of the indictment (participation in a group obstructing law enforcement officers conducting their official duty as stipulated in Article 318, paragraphs 1 and 2) did not imply mandatory legal representation of the accused.