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News 10 May 17

Harsher Charges Urged for Macedonia Parliament Attack

The Macedonian Public Prosecution is trying to downplay the recent violence in parliament by charging the alleged attackers with the mildest possible criminal offences, observers fear.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Supporters of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party stormed parliament in April 27. Photo: Anadoly

Legal experts suspect that the charges raised against nine alleged participants in the April 27 violence in parliament are too mild and may be part of a plan to prevent them from ever standing trial for much more serious offences.

The prosecution charged the nine suspects with "participation in a violent crowd that prevented police officials from performing [their] duty".

The envisaged punishment for these charges ranges from three months to three years in jail, which many think is too lenient considering the evidence presented by the footage shot by media during the violence.

"A series of criminal acts were committed. From attempted murder, violence, to [infliction of] severe physical injuries... When you try to attack someone's head with [camera] stand, you can kill him on the spot," said lawyer Aleksandar Nakov.

In April 27, just minutes after the new parliamentary majority elected Talat Xaferi as new parliament speaker, paving the way for the election of a new government, supporters of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party stormed parliament, injuring some 100 people, including journalists and ten MPs from the new majority.

Video footage showed the likely next Prime Minister and Social Democrat party leader Zoran Zaev bleeding after being injured in the head, the head of the DPA-Movement for Reforms, Zojadin Sela, being beaten unconscious and dragged across the parliament floor by his attackers, as well as many other violent outbursts against MPs.

The violence continued for around two hours when parliament was left with an insufficient police presence.

"The prosecution has only proven that it is completely incapable, incompetent and under political party influence," lawyer Zvonko Davidovic told Telma TV.

"If we on the outside are able to recognise that the perpetrators had roles that were divided up, we cannot turn a blind eye right from the start and not talk about 'criminal conspiracy'," he added.

He said that there was one group "who plotted, incited and carried out the plan, and has found people for its execution.

"The second group are those who opened the [parliament] gates, allowed [the crowd] to go through the halls and find their targets... The third group are the very executors of the violent criminal acts." Davidovic added.

Police have so far filed criminal charges against 25 people for the storming of the parliament.

The police also charged them with either "participation in crowd that prevents police officials in performing duty" or "participation in a crowd that commits a criminal act".

In the second instance, the possible punishment ranges from a fine to a maximum of five years in jail.

The mild criminal charges have sparked controversy in the country.
 
In its report on the violence, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights identified 28 different criminal offences.

The Committee said that for 18 of these, there is already a considerable amount of evidence, while for the other ten there are suspicions that must be investigated further.

The Committee has divided the suspects into four categories: organisers, executors, police officers and their superiors.

It suspects that the media footage showing the police's restraint response, or lack of response, to the violence demands thet the police be held accountable as well.

Addressing these concerns, the Public Prosecution said in a press statement on Monday that if it discovers new evidence, it will change the charges accordingly.

"This means that if new evidence is discovered that pinpoints that some person has committed other criminal act, the public prosecutor, during the entire procedure, can alter the criminal indictment or charge that person with other crimes," the prosecution said.

However, experts have warned that the window for filing more serious charges will close once any defendant is being convicted in court. Once that happens, the same person cannot be charged with a more serious offence over the same incident.

The former ruling VMRO DPMNE party - which is being accused of trying to cling to power by preventing the new majority after the December 11 elections to elect a government – has condemned the charges against its sympathisers who stormed the parliament building.

The VMRO DPMNE said at a press conference last Wednesday that this was a “politically motivated” attempt to intimidate and hunt down “innocent patriots” whose only sin was defending their own country.

This party has been accused in the past of authoritarian tendencies and of holding a firm grip on the judiciary and on all the other key institutions in the country.

It has denied this.

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