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News 22 Oct 13

Macedonian Journalist's Harsh Sentence Prompts Outcry

Media and human rights groups expressed shock over the length of the jail sentence handed down to journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, which has raised fresh fears about media freedom.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, ZNM, the Independent Journalists’ Trade Union, SSNM, and the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights all expressed dismay over the four-and-a-half-year jail term, calling it a blow to press freedom.

The verdict “goes against the freedom of media”, the ZNM said.

The criminal court in Skopje found Kezarovski guilty on Monday of revealing the identity of the murder witness in an article he wrote in 2008.

“Macedonia has become the only country in South Eastern Europe with a journalist jailed for a text he wrote… The message is very frightening – every reporter who reveals institutional abuse can end up in jail,” the ZNM said.

The SSNM said it was “appalled” that a journalist was being jailed for acting in public interest to investigate police abuse in perverting the course of justice.

“The SSNM strongly rejects the arguments that Kezarovski has been sentenced for a crime, and not for his journalistic commitment," it said.

"The sentence against him send a message that Macedonian journalists are being deprived of the core element of their profession, to act in public interest,” it added.

The Helsinki Committee said the sentence “sets a serious precedent… when the freedom of media and of speech in Macedonia are in serious jeopardy”.

The organizations accuse the authorities of pursuing the journalist for revealing institutional misuse, instead of trying to discover who was involved in the wrongdoings.

The European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, also condemned the court decision.

"The decision and its brutal implementation are utterly unacceptable and appalling,'" the EFJ General Secretary, Ricardo Gutiérrez, said.

‘‘Kezarovski has done nothing wrong but has fulfilled his role as a journalist to report on matters in the public interest," he added.

“The court passed an extremely harsh sentence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By prosecuting Kezarovski five years after these articles were published, the judicial authorities act with a zeal that was both incomprehensible and disturbing."

Macedonian NGO Civil - Center for Freedom requested "urgent release of Kezharovski and compensation for all the injustice that has been brought upon him, as well as for all the trauma that he and his family have gone through today and during the last five months."

Civil, together with Reporters without borders- Germany, N-OST- Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, have assessed in a mutual reaction, two moths ago, that the arresting of Kezharovski has been devised with a goal to intimidate him, as well as other local journalists and media.

In 2008, police said they had found the people 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 with murder while Gjorge Petrovski, who was extradited from the US, was charged with ordering the murder.

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

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

In Kezarovski’s trial the prosecution claimed that publication of Kezarovski’s article allowed the defendants to find out the identity of the protected witness and influence him to change his testimony.

Kezarovski pleaded not guilty.

“My texts revealed a public secret about the work of the courts and the breach of court rules. They are [also] a criticism of the work of the police ministry,” he told the court.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, also expressed deep concern.

“Today’s verdict has serious consequences for free expression and media freedom," she said on Monday.

"Criminal prosecution of reporters for their journalistic activities violates the fundamental human right to free expression and the country’s OSCE commitments to develop and protect free media,” Mijatovic added.

In parliament, opposition legislators accused the ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of targeting independent journalists through the courts.

But VMRO DPMNE deputy Silvana Boneva said the government played no role in the sentence, and lawmakers had no place in interfering with independent judicial authorities and their decisions.

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