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News 23 Oct 14

Journalists Demand Freedom for Jailed Macedonian Reporter

Macedonian and international journalist's associations demanded 'Justice and Freedom' for the jailed reporter Tomislav Kezarovski ahead of Friday’s hearing before the appeal court.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian journalists on Thursday laid 23 flowers in the city centre, at the spot where police obstructed a protest organized in support of Kezarovski one year ago.

The flowers symbolized 23 years of Macedonian independence and democracy.

“We wish to recall last year’s protest and the fact that our colleague Kezarovski is still incarcerated. We encourage judges not to succumb to possible political pressures as they reach their decision [on Friday],” Tamara Causidis, the head of the Macedonian Journalist’s Union, SSNM, said.

In a joint statement, the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ and the European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, urged the authorities to ensure “that all the ‘absurd’ charges against Kezarovski are dropped so that justice and freedom of expression can prevail.

“Tomislav Kezarovski is being unfairly unpunished for standing up for his profession and protecting his sources,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha, who visited Tomislav and his family in March to convey solidarity from IFJ unions worldwide.

“We demand that justice is upheld so Tomislav can walk away from this nightmare as a free man,” he added.

The investigative journalist was jailed last October for four-and-a-half years for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial, in a case which has raised fears about media freedom in Macedonia.

Kezarovski spent six months in detention in Skopje, after which, in October 2013, he was released to house arrest where he has been ever since.

Kezarovski’s prison sentence and long period of pre-trial detention have attracted much criticism, prompting claims that the government of Nikola Gruevski is trying to stifle press freedom. It has denied all involvement in the case.

Tomislav Kezarovski | Archive Photo

EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerrregård, who visited Kezarovski this month at his home in Skopje, said the ordeal continued to cause huge emotional and financial distress to his entire family.

“On October 24, it will be decided whether he will return to prison or whether he can go out of the court room as a free man. Either way, his life will never the same,” the EFJ President said.

“He will need to find a new job as a journalist in Macedonia where the sector has suffered a serious loss. Since his arrest, his wife has also had difficulty finding a job, as soon as she informs any potential employer about her surname, Kezarovski," he noted.

The EFJ has also released a short video showing the degree of international solidarity felt with Kezarovski.

The watchdog organisation, Reporters without Borders, has also appealed for Kezarovski to be set free.

“Kezarovski made only one mistake, criticizing the Macedonian authorities, and we see nothing wrong in that. On the contrary, we nominated him for the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Prize for his courageous work. The protection of investigative journalists should be a condition for Macedonia’s joining the European Union” Christian Mihr, the director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, said.

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 as perpetrators while Gjorge Petrovski, who was extradited from the United States, was charged with ordering the murder.

But, in a spectacular twist in February 2013, a former protected witness, Zlatko Arsovski, admitted falsely testifying against the defendants, saying he did so after receiving threats from the police.

The dramatic 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 in Kezarovski’s trial claimed 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.

Kezarovski pleaded not guilty.

“My texts have revealed a public secret about the work of the courts and breaches of court rules. They are [also] a criticism of the work of the police ministry,” Kezarovski told the court during his trial.

The trial of the journalist comes against a background of the widespread closure of media outlets in Macedonia that are critical of the government.

The closures have fuelled concern about the state of press freedom in the country. Since 2011, the European Commission in its annual progress reports has noted "freedom of speech" as one of the key areas that Macedonia needs to work on.

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