News 14 Dec 15

Macedonia Upholds Albanians’ ‘Terrorist Murder’ Sentences

The appeals court in Skopje upheld life sentences for six ethnic Albanians convicted of terrorism for the killing of five Macedonians in 2012, a case that sparked ethnically-charged unrest.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
The defendants during the original trial. Archive photo.

The appeals court said in a statement on Monday that it has upheld the six ethnic Albanians’ sentences and rejected their appeal as “ungrounded”.

Their defence had demanded acquittal due to a lack of evidence, insisting the case was a political prosecution staged by the government.

The prosecution claimed however that the murders were an act of terrorism in order to provoke ethnic unrest in Macedonia.

BIRN was unable to reach the defence lawyers for a reaction.

The bodies of victims Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12, 2012 near Smilkovci Lake in the Skopje area.

Their bodies had been lined up and they appear to have been executed. The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was found a short distance away.

News of the murders raised ethnic tensions and groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, some of which turned violent, blaming the killings on members of the large Albanian minority community.

In July 2014, the criminal court in Skopje gave the longest possible sentence for terrorism offences, jail for life, to the six ethnic Albanians over the killings.

Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta are in jail in Macedonia, but the two others, Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, are in prison in neighbouring Kosovo where they are serving another, unrelated sentence.

The terrorism convictions sparked even more tension as running battles erupted in Skopje between several thousand angry and predominantly young ethnic Albanians and riot police who used tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades and pepper spray in an attempt to quell the unrest.

The protesters said they did not trust the court, accusing the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of influencing the verdicts.

The appeals court hearing was expected to deliver a twist in the high-profile case.

Advance speculation suggested that the defence might submit new evidence from transcripts of wiretapped conversations between officials about the case – part of a large cache of surveillance recordings that the Macedonian opposition has been releasing in its bid to oust the government.

The recordings cast doubt on the convictions, according to the head of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev. But Zaev has not published the transcripts, saying that he fears they might spark a violent reaction from the country’s large Albanian community.

Meanwhile Macedonia’s newly-formed special prosecution, tasked with investigating the illegal surveillance cases, demanded on Monday that the opposition give it all materials it has regarding the case.

The special prosecution said it will soon decide whether it will take over jurisdiction over the case, after reviewing the materials.

In 2001 Macedonia went through a brief armed conflict when Albanian insurgents clashed with security forces. The conflict ended later the same year with the signing of a peace accord that granted greater rights to the country’s Albanians who make up a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1 million population.

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