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News 31 Oct 13

Rapporteur Detects 'Fear' in Macedonia Media

The lengthy jail sentence of the journalist Tomislav Kezarovski among others is creating a climate of fear in Macedonia, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the country said.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

MEP Richard Howitt | Photo by: mia

Richard Howitt spoke of a climate of fear and pressure in Macedonia, wrapping up a three-day visit mostly dedicated to looking at freedom of speech in the country.

Referring to the journalist Tomislav Kezarovski who was last week jailed for four-and-a-half years for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial, Howitt expressed concern.

“I am worried by this and other cases, that the cumulative impact of these cases - deliberately or otherwise - may be to create a culture of caution or even fear amongst journalists, editors and owners,” he said.

Recalling the principle of the independence of the judiciary, Howitt, who during his visit met government ministers as well as journalists, said some elements of the case against Kezarovski were especially worrying.

“I am worried in this and other cases about the lengthy use of pre-trial detention and about the conditions of that detention for defendants who must be regarded as innocent until they are proven guilty,” Howitt said.

He added that delays in prosecutions in this and other cases are “all-to-frequently undertaken”, which “leave open the impression that the decision to proceed against a defendant may be being determined by political rather than judicial considerations”.

The length of the sentence for Kezarovski shocked many, and has raised fresh concerns about the freedom of the media in Macedonia.

The criminal court in Skopje found Kezarovski guilty of revealing the identity of the murder witness in an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine.

Local and international media organisations and watchdogs, including the OSCE, have accused the government of targeting the journalist for his writing and criticised the authorities for keeping him for so long in detention - almost five months.

The conviction of the journalist came against a background of closures of several media outlets that had been critical of the government.

The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski insists it played no role in the reporter's trial, and says it is not targeting critical media outlets and journalists.

But it has rebuffed calls to urge the President of Macedonia to pardon Kezarovski, insisting that the whole matter lies in the hands of the courts.

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