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News 09 Aug 13

High-Profile Trial of Macedonian Journalist Starts

Macedonian journalist Tomislav Kezarovski went on trial for revealing the identity of a protected court witness in a case criticised as a blow to press freedom.

Sase Dimovski

The trial of Kezarovski started on Friday at Skopje criminal court with the journalist facing a minimum sentence of four years in prison for revealing the identity of a murder trial witness in an article he wrote in November 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine.

The prosecution will try to prove that Kezarovski did this knowingly.

“In the text published in Reporter, the journalist cites the Law on Witness Protection, he has a law faculty degree and he is aware that he is subject to criminal responsibility,” prosecutor Lile Stefanova noted in the charges.

However his defence will insist that he meant no harm and that he acted in the public interest.

Ever since his arrest, Kezarovski has been held in custody in Skopje's Shutka prison, despite calls by all the main journalistic associations in the country and abroad for his immediate release.

The OSCE, the Association of European Journalists and the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders have all condemned the arrest, calling for his release from detention.

Kezarovski is standing trial together with seven other people, including a judge, a public prosecutor, lawyers and former judges.

The prosecution claims it has evidence that they tried to help the defendants in the murder case known as 'Orese' avoid justice.

In 2008, police said they had found the suspects behind the 2005 murder of 57-year-old Lazar Milosevski in the village of Orese near Veles.

Two brothers, Ordan and Ljupco Gjorgievski, were charged as perpetrators while Gjorge Petrovski, who was extradited from the United States, was charged with ordering the murder.

But in a spectacular twist, this February the former protected witness, Zlatko Arsovski, admitted falsely testifying against the defendants, saying he did so after threats from the police.

The sensational admission resulted in the release of the defendants who had claimed all along that a police inspector had framed them out of revenge.

The prosecution now claims that the publication of Kezarovski’s article allowed the murder trial defendants to find out who the protected witness was and influence him to change his testimony.

Prosecutors alleged that they used a friend from the criminal underworld, Jane Pavlovski Tica, to pressurise the witness.

“Jane Pavlovski Tica and the family of the defendants for the Orese murder clearly recognised the identity of the witness and made attempts to talk to him, sending people into the Stip prison [where he was held], following his movement and at the end creating a situation so Zlatko Arsovski would reveal his identity and change his testimony before the court,” the prosecution stated.

Adding to the confusion, while Kezarovski is charged with revealing the identity of a protected witness in the article from 2008, the witness himself told the court in February that he only became a protected witness in January 2010.

But the prosecution denies this, saying that the witness was first questioned by the police in 2008 and given a codename, 'Breza'.

Before being detained, Kezarovski worked for the Nova Macedonia daily where he wrote about the investigation into the death of journalist Nikola Mladenov.

Mladenov, a fierce government critic, died in March in a car crash on the highway near Skopje. Officially his death was proclaimed an accident but some suspected foul play.

In his articles, Kezarovski claimed he had uncovered potentially important evidence, four road toll receipts from the crash site, which the official investigation into the death of Mladenov missed.

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