Turkey asks Kosovo to punish journalist over coup comments


  • World
  • Tuesday, 26 Jul 2016

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Turkey's embassy in Kosovo has urged the government to take action against a journalist over tongue-in-cheek Facebook comments he made about the failed military coup in Turkey, a document seen by Reuters showed on Tuesday.

As the failed coup unfolded on July 15, Berat Buzhala, a leading Kosovo journalist known for his satirical comments, wrote on Facebook:

"I invite the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo who are holidaying in Turkey to align with the army." The comment was signed with an Internet emoticon with a tongue protruding, indicating the comment was not serious.

"This is the most serious coup since the arrival of Facebook," Buzhala said.

Turkey is a major supporter of Kosovo which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Its companies run the sole airport, own electricity distribution and are building two highways worth around $2 billion.

Buzhala has over 40,000 Facebook followers. His news portal gazetaexpress.com, which is the biggest in Kosovo with around one million readers per day, has been critical of Kosovans who have gone to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

On July 20, the Turkish Embassy in Pristina sent a note to Kosovo's foreign ministry urging it to take action over the journalist's comments.

"(The ministry should) ensure that necessary steps will be taken about this person in accordance with the law," said the note which was accompanied by screen shots of Buzhala's Facebook comments.

The embassy note, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, also quoted a newly-adopted Kosovo law which prohibits citizens from joining armed conflicts outside the country.

In the note the embassy also said the law stipulated that comments by people such as Buzhala "shall be sentenced to jail terms from six months to five years."

GULEN SCHOOLS IN BALKANS

Some Balkan countries have faced pressure from Ankara to close private schools linked with Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt.

Kosovo says that up to now it has not received any such request from Ankara. Local media quoted Education Minister Arsim Bajrami last week as saying Kosovo had no plans to close down its Gulen-linked schools.

It remained unclear what steps the Kosovo authorities would take over the Turkish diplomatic note. Foreign ministry officials in Pristina declined to comment.

Buzhala said he had not been informed about the embassy's note but he saw an online campaign against him by Islamist websites demanding his arrest.

"This demonstrates the arrogance of the Turkish government towards small countries like Kosovo, wanting to push them into political and judicial submission, in addition to economic submission," Buzhala said.

    "It is unimaginable that a foreign government makes such a request because of some satirical comments."

In Bosnia, where Gulen-sponsored schools have opened since the war of the 1990s, Turkish Ambassador Cihad Erginay last week called on officials and parents to act against the schools which he branded as "terrorist organizations".

Bosnian officials have not reacted yet. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was reported to have asked for Gulen's schools to be shut when he visited Sarajevo last year.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Richard Balmforth)

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