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News 22 Jul 13

Detained Macedonian Journalist Starts Hunger Strike

Investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, who has spent almost two months in detention after being arrested for revealing the name of a murder witness, has launched a hunger strike.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Video footage of Kezarovski’s arrest

Kezarovski’s hunger strike started on Monday in his cell in Skopje’s Shutka prison, his wife Marina Kezarovska told local media, adding that she is joining her husband in the protest action.

“I begged him not to do it, but he told me that if he is not released by [last] Friday, he will start a hunger strike,” Kezarovska told NOVA TV.

Kezarovska said that she decided to join the hunger strike out of despair, hoping that it will focus attention on the “absurd” situation that her husband is facing.

“He keeps repeating to me that he is innocent,” she said.

Police detained the investigative journalist from the Nova Makedonija daily newspaper in May in relation to an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine in which he revealed the identity of a witness in an unresolved murder case.

The protected witness later told a court that his testimony regarding the murder was false and was made under threats from the police.

Kezarovski has been held in custody since his arrest, despite calls by all the main journalists’ associations in the country for his immediate release.

In a joint statement on Monday, the Macedonian Journalists Association, ZNM, the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, and the Macedonian Institute for Media, MIM, expressed “deep concern” over Kezarovski’s “fragile physical and mental” condition.

They said that his hunger strike “must set the alarm” for his immediate release from detention, or else “the responsibility for the [health] condition of the journalist will fall on the judicial and executive authorities”.

In late June, Skopje criminal court ruled that Kezarovski should remain behind bars for another 30 days, giving the same explanation as it had done previously, which was that the journalist might “escape or influence other witnesses” in a wider investigation.

This week the court must decide whether to again extend his detention for another 30 days. His family is hopeful that he could be released because the court investigation is now over and he can no longer have any influence on it.

Earlier this month, the country’s ombudsman received complaints from the journalist that he had been ill-treated in Skopje’s Shutka prison. He said he had been deprived of prescribed open-air exercise and was not allowed to receive daily newspapers which he pays for.

Brussels has said that it is closely following the case.

The OSCE, the Association of European Journalists and the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have all condemned the arrest, calling for Kezarovski's release.

Reporters Without Borders also said that it was “worried” by the decline in freedom of information in Macedonia, which was ranked in 116th place out of 179 countries in the organisation's 2013 press freedom index.

"Imprisoning a journalist for investigative reporting that was clearly in the public interest will not improve this situation,” the watchdog organization said.

The Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe, N-OST, the network for supporting investigative journalism, SCOOP, and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, have also launched a joint campaign for Kezarovski’s release.

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