An ethnic Albanian living in Belgrade accused of war crimes; Neighbors take action to help him, claim he’s innocent

Muhamet Aljidemaj
FOTO: Gazeta Express

Muhamet Alidemaj, a native of Krnjina near Istok, who lived in Belgrade for more than two decades, was arrested and detained upon arriving in Kosovo back in 2021. Alidemaj remains in custody to date. While the Kosovo judiciary accused him of allegedly committing a war crime in Izbica in 1999, together with Serb soldiers and policemen, Alidemaj’s neighbors from Belgrade who reached out to our newsroom claim that he is innocent, that he was not part of the security forces, and that during the Kosovo war, he lived and worked in Jakovo, suburban neighborhood of Belgrade. They even raised money to pay for Alidemaj’s lawyer and voiced a desire to testify, noting that „one cannot watch calmly while an innocent person is being accused.“

Milan Opacic from Jakovo is confident that his neighbor, Muhamet Alidemaj, is innocent. In a statement for KoSSev, he says that Alidemaj came to live in Belgrade in September 1998, that he was not a member of the Serbian Army or the police, and that he did not serve the mandatory military service.

„When the crime occurred in Izbica, he was not even there. He came here to his uncle’s house in Jakovo, they had several buses and provided city transportation services. He was a conductor of city transport. That’s why the whole of Jakovo and the entire bus line know him, because of his job,“ Opacic told KoSSev.

Alidemaj built a house in Jakovo and started a family. He has a wife and three children.

„They built houses here, they live their lives, he has nothing to do with it,“ adds the neighbor, stating that Alidemaj’s cousin also lives in Jakovo.

Everything changed in 2021 when Muhamet received the news from a family member still living in Kosovo that his father’s health had deteriorated.

„Until the year before last, in March, he was here in Jakovo, then he was told that his father was seriously ill. He went to visit him in Istok in Krnjina, where he was arrested,“ Opacic testified.

Immediately after the arrest, the family hired a lawyer.

Alidemaj’s neighbors from Jakovo helped out with the financial costs, providing part of the money for his defense attorney, he adds.

„The lawyer first asked for €25,000. The fact that people from Jakovo collected part of the money in 24 hours speaks to what kind of a man Meta (Muhamet) is. Serbs from Jakovo sent him money,“ Opacic told KoSSev.

Speaking about the motive as to why I got so involved and all those people – one cannot watch calmly while an innocent person is being accused. The man is definitely not guilty

He revealed that on the eve of the first hearing, the hired lawyer asked for more money, and then quit the case when he did not receive it.

The family then hired a new defense attorney – Milos Delevic from North Mitrovica.

Opacic adds that Alidemaj’s wife, who lives alone with three children and was unable to pay for the lawyer, reached out to the Kosovo Office, which covered the costs.

Alidemaj arrested based on a neighbor’s report

Milos Delevic confirmed Opacic’s allegations in a statement for KoSSev.

The lawyer said that Alidemaj lived in Belgrade from 1998 until March 2021, when he went to visit his birthplace.

„He came, he crossed the crossing normally, he was with his family for one day, and after that one day, one of the neighbors reported him, saying that he participated in the massacre in Izbica,“ Delevic said, noting that Alidemaj has been detained in prison in Podujevo since then.

The Prosecutor’s Office in Pristina then submitted a request for one-month detention, which is being extended for more than a year now.

In the meantime, an indictment was filed accusing Alidemaj of the events in Izbica in 1999. It consists of three points, specified Delevic.

„From March 24, 1999, to June 11, 1999, during the armed conflict in Kosovo, as a member of the Serbian police and military forces, he seriously violated international wartime rules against the civilian population and their property in violation of Article 3, unique to the four Geneva Conventions Convention of August 12, 1949, and additional Protocols,“ the indictment states.

On December 28th, a session was held where the opening address was delivered.

In just a few days, that is, on January 18th, the witnesses in the case are set to start testifying.

„The questioning of the prosecution’s witnesses begins on that day, and when they are finished, our witnesses will be questioned and then the court will make a decision,“ the lawyer confirmed.

He stated that the prosecution has 19 witnesses, and the defense proposed the same number, 16 of which will confirm the accused’s alibi.

„These are the witnesses that will back up his alibi – that he was not at that place at that time, that is, that he already moved to Belgrade in 1998,“ he said.

In addition to the witnesses, Delevic also claims that material evidence is also in favor of the defense – 19 pieces of evidence – nine photographs taken in Jakovo from that period, a medical report from the Zemun Health Center…

At the same time, he claims that numerous residents of Jakovo expressed a desire to come to the trial and confirm that Alidemaj lived in Belgrade at the time the events in Izbica took place.

Addressing the fact that his client has been in custody for more than a year and a half, Delevic states that the whole procedure was a little slower due to the pandemic and the judges’ strike.

On the other hand, he says that the detention hearings have become completely meaningless, because the Pristina judiciary orders detention for all accused with Serbian citizenship, because of the alleged danger of escape.

„In every case, the prosecution notes, and the court later confirms, that the state of Serbia does not cooperate with Kosovo and that there is a risk of escape based on that,“ Delevic said.

Ahead of the new hearing scheduled for January 18th, Delevic emphasized that he is certain that the accused was not in Izbica at the time of the massacre. He stressed that the defense is well prepared and that there is a lot of material evidence in their favor, as well as witness statements.

After this, two more hearings are scheduled – on February 10th and February 14th.

On the proceedings led against Alidemaj

The Kosovo police reported on March 31, 2021, that a man with the initials M.A. was arrested in Kosovo a day earlier. The prosecutor’s office then announced that the person arrested is a citizen of Serbia of Albanian ethnicity charged with war crimes against the civilian population in the village of Izbica near Srbica.

Almost a year later, in late March 2022, it was confirmed that the Kosovo Special Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment in the Special Department of the Basic Court in Pristina.

„The investigation, which lasted 12 months, established that the defendant M.A., together with as yet unidentified persons from the Serbian police and army, participated in the execution of 130 persons, 12 of whom survived. During the investigation phase, sufficient relevant legal evidence was provided that proves the well-founded suspicion that the said defendant, in co-perpetration with other members of the police and the Serbian Armed Forces, participated and contributed to the commission of the criminal offense for which he is charged,“ the prosecution announced at the time.

They also indicated that the statements of over 100 witnesses and victims in this case were taken during the investigation. Also, material evidence such as videos, autopsy reports and other evidence were submitted, which, as the prosecution announced, prove that on March 28th, 1999, innocent civilians were killed in the village of Izbica.

At the same time, the Special Prosecutor’s Office emphasized that the investigation of the massacre in Izbica does not end with the filing of this indictment.

„The case is larger and much more complex, and for that reason, investigations are still ongoing to secure other material evidence in order to fully shed light on this event,“ they indicated.

The Pristina media reported in April 2022 that Muhamet Alidemaj pleaded not guilty to war crimes against the civilian population in the village of Izbica at a hearing held in the Basic Court in Pristina.

The massacre in Izbica was an integral part of the war crimes indictment against Slobodan Milosevic.

This indictment states that Serbian and Yugoslav forces attacked the village on March 27th, 1999, and that the residents took refuge in a meadow outside Izbica.

„On or around March 28th, forces of the FRY and Serbia surrounded the villagers and then approached them, demanding money. As the policemen stole valuables, the men were separated from the women and small children. The men were then further divided into two groups, one of which was sent to a nearby hill and the other to a nearby river bed. Forces of the FRY and Serbia then shot at both groups of men. Approximately 130 Kosovo Albanian men were killed,“ the indictment states.

Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.