Die MORINA | BIRN, Pristina
“When we said goodbye to each other, he came back, tapped on the metal bannister of the stairs with a coin and asked me, ‘Do you need me for anything? Because I’m leaving.’
“I had many obligations with the kids too, and I said, ‘No, no, no, go ahead because I am here.’ These were the last words… he said, ‘do you need me because I am leaving’.”
This is how Sevdie Maliqi recalls her final conversation with her husband, Afrim Maliqi, a Kosovo journalist who was killed on December 2, 1998 in Pristina. He had turned 33 just one day before he was shot dead.
“Afrim was young. It’s a coincidence, on December 1 it was his birthday, on December 2 he was killed, and on December 3 he was buried,” she said.
Considering the political situation in Kosovo at the time and his character, Afrim Maliqi didn’t like to celebrate on his birthday, “so we spent almost the whole night looking at the photographs from Afrim’s childhood, his time as a student and other periods”, his widow recalled.
On the day of his death, her husband told her that he was going to the headquarters of the Kosovo Liberation Army branch in the KLA’s Llapi Operational Zone, which was located in the village of Llapashtica.
“I don’t know why I had this great desire to believe that wherever he said he was, I would think that he would only be there and nowhere else… and that nothing could ever happen to him,” she said.
That night she did not turn on the television, so she only found out the next day that her husband and two of his friends, two KLA members called Hyzri Talla and Ilir Durmishi, had been killed in Pristina, very near the neighborhood where she was with her two children. They were shot dead in a car that was hit by a hail of bullets.
“It was a big shock for us. ‘No,’ I said. ‘This is not possible, he is there [in Llapashtica],’” she recalled.
She sent her children to her parents’ house, thinking that their father’s dead body would be brought home and not wanting them to see it.
“On the way I told them that Daddy went to the KLA, not as a fighter, but as a journalist… that he is writing about what is happening,” she said.
However his body was sent to Llapashtica instead, to the KLA branch headquarters, along with the bodies of KLA members Talla and Durmishi. There was a packed gathering at the KLA HQ to honour the three men who were killed, Sevdie Maliqi remembered.
They remained buried in Llapashtica until last year, when they were reburied at a memorial complex in the village of Penuha, where the bodies of those who died in the KLA’s Llapi Zone are interred.
Afrim Maliqi was one of 15 ethnic Albanian and Serb journalists who were killed or went missing in the wartime and post-war period in Kosovo between August 1998 and May 2005. None of these cases have been solved, and the bodies of five of them have never been found.
Three weeks before he was killed, he was appointed as an editor for culture at the newspaper where he worked, Bujku, one of the few Pristina-based Albanian-language papers, but as the armed conflict was ongoing in Kosovo, he wrote more about current affairs than the arts.
“He even hardened the language of his writing,” Sevdie Maliqi said, explaining that this made her completely sure that his work was a problem for the Serbian regime that ruled Kosovo as its province at the time.
Her husband was followed by unknown people for at least three months before he was shot, she continued.
“Even when we were [walking] in the street, even with the children, they were always behind us, with cars or walking,” she said.
At the time, the journalist and his family lived in the Muhagjeret neighbourhood of Pristina.
“To enter the house where we lived, there were three stairs, a door and then the yard. There were two people sitting on those three stairs constantly for about three months, who had to move to make room for us when we passed by,” his widow recalled.
She said that these unknown people never stopped them or asked any questions, until one day they asked the journalist’s children where their father was.
After the children told them what happened, they became concerned and decided to not let them out alone anymore.
“Even the day when Afrim was killed, I remember that I moved [the unknown watchers] aside with my foot in order to make some space for me to get out of the house. [I] never [saw them again] after that day,” Sevdie Maliqi said, adding that if she did see them again, she wouldn’t be able to recognise them as she never looked at their faces.
The couple did not have much chance to discuss their concerns, because in the house where they were living, they were hosting families who had been displaced from their homes in Podujeva/Podujevo, where the war had already started.
“So in order to not panic any of them or our children about what we were thinking, we never discussed it… only when we walked to work together,” she said.
“His opinion was that journalists were being persecuted, especially him, who had very good friends at that time who were members of the KLA and had constant contact with them,” she said.
She added that her husband had often visited the KLA branch headquarters in Llapashtica, where he had many friends; one of them was Hyzri Talla, alongside whom he was killed.
“Every time he went there [to the KLA branch] he would come back as if he was transformed. Once he came back feeling very proud. ‘We have an army,’ he said.”
Left in the dark
The Association of Kosovo Journalists said that so far, it has not received any official information about the progress of the investigation into Afrim Maliqi’s murder, or the cases of the other journalists who were killed or during and after the war in Kosovo.
“The Association of Kosovo Journalists once again asks the Prosecutor’s Office to prioritise these cases and encourages all family members and citizens who have evidence or proof regarding the killings, disappearances or kidnappings of journalists in Kosovo to report them to the judiciary,” it said in a statement to BIRN.
Along with Serbian journalists’ associations, it co-sponsored a resolution at last year’s European Federation of Journalists conference calling on international and domestic institutions to “quickly and effectively investigate the crimes committed against journalists in Kosovo” and urging prosecutors in Pristina and Belgrade to cooperate to solve the cases.
Meanwhile Sevdie Maliqi said that after her husband’s murder, the family was never given any official information about the investigation.
She recalled a newspaper report saying that a Serbian prosecutor, Danica Marinkovic, was at the scene right after the killing.
When contacted by BIRN, Marinkovic said she could not remember the case or find it in her files from the period.
Sevdie Maliqi was never interviewed about her husband’s death: “Nobody from the Serbian authorities ever knocked on our door to ask where he was, why he was killed, was he a criminal or not. Never!” she insisted.
But she is convinced that she knows who was responsible for his murder.
“I know who [did it], I know who. It was the Serbian regime… the order was given by them,” she said.
She believes that her husband was killed because of the articles he wrote, and despite the years that have passed, she still hopes that there will be a proper investigation – “for the sake of Afrim,” she said.