August 17, 2009, TUZ, MONTENEGRO - After nearly three years behind bars, three Albanian men were released yesterday from a Montenegrin prison after serving their sentences for unwarranted accusations stemming from their involvement in a scheme to carry out acts of "terrorism" against Montenegro.
U.S. citizens Kol and Rrok Dedvukaj, along with Pjeter Devukaj were hauled off to prison on September 9, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary election in Montenegro. The charges stemmed from arms possession to plans to commit "terrorist" acts aimed at creating a separate Albanian region within Montenegro. But as the highly televised trial pressed on for nearly two years, the prosecution was never able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these men were in any way connected with the crimes they were being charged. In fact, all the evidence that was gathered during the trial was never tied with any one suspect. Nonetheless, as the proceedings went forward, unsubstantiated claims of "terrorist aggression against the state" was broadcast throughout this tiny country leading to a publicly televised verdict of "guilty."
Montenegro was immediately able to frame public opinion and consciousness that (1) Albanians in general were aggressively pursuing secession, (2) the Albanian Diaspora was behind this, (3) that Montenegro was an ally in the fight against global terrorism and these arrests were no different than others around the globe, (4) that Albanians were connected with Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East [although all the accused were Catholic], and (5) that the protections in the Montenegrin constitution did not apply to these people.
Family members of these gentlemen were elated after their release, but the celebration was clouded by several factors that will have a lasting effect on the lives of the Dedvukaj's and those that continue to serve sentences. The mental and physical pains will endure forever; Kol Dedvukaj was diagnosed with diabetes while in prison and suffered severe mental lapses attributed to daily beatings. With his sudden weight loss, Rrok has complained of enduring headaches and amnesia, also attributed to nearly three years of physical and mental anguish. What is just as disturbing was the mental torture that all the prisoners went through; constant harassment related to their ethnicity followed by tormenting that the United States did not care that their very own citizens were being held and tortured by a corrupt regime.
Although they have finally been released, and now united with their families, their road back to the United States will be coupled with an even longer road to mental recovery. Returning to a country they entrusted would come to their rescue, when in fact it did not, will be hard to swallow. But what is harder to comprehend is how three innocent men visiting relatives in their homeland could be illegally arrested, brutally beaten, ethnically discriminated, mentally tormented, and physically tortured by a country that continues to propagate that it is meeting all democratic principles en route to EU membership.
Whatever the case may be, "Eagle's Flight" will forever be a thorn in Montenegro's side until she decides to confess that this whole ordeal was strategically planned to quash the efforts that Albanians have for decades believed in -- the constitutional freedom to express themselves and participate without any obstructions by the majority and the state.