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News 27 Sep 17

Macedonia Mulls Retrials of ‘Political’ Cases

People who consider themselves victims of politically-motivated prosecutions under the previous government have prepared a draft of a proposed law which would grant them retrials.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian Justice Ministry. Photo: BIRN

The Committee for the Protection of Civic Rights, an association of people who were indicted and jailed in dozens of allegedly politically-motivated court cases under the previous government, has submitted a draft law that would allow procedural reviews and retrials.

The Committee’s members say that the law is essential if the country wants to restore people's trust in the judiciary after the 11-year authoritarian rule of the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party.

"These kinds of laws are ad-hoc laws and are usually being adopted after a tyrannical regime has been removed," said Slobodan Bogoevski, a former secret police official and critic of the former regime who was jailed for allegedly soliciting bribes.

"This law will be in force for one year and will allow all the people whose rights have been violated during court procedures to get the chance of a review," said Bogoevski, who is member of the association that prepared the draft.

The draft envisages giving people a year to ask for retrials based on ten criteria which would indicate a politically-motivated case.

The criteria include the breach of the presumption of innocence, the misuse of protected witnesses, the breach of the right to a fair trial and the breach of the judicial principle of equality between the prosecution and the defence.

The association has estimated that some 30 to 35 cases might be up for review. 

The case dubbed ‘Spy’, launched in 2013, in which 20 people were tried and sentenced for being part of an alleged spy ring for an unnamed foreign country is one of them.

Another is the ethnically charged case dubbed ‘Monster’ in which six alleged ethnic Albanian Muslim extremists have been jailed for life for terrorism over the killings of five ethnic Macedonians in Skopje in 2012.

Despite the authorities’ then insistence that they prosecuted the real perpetrators, the case sparked suspicions about an unfair trial, with the defence insisting that it had no access to some of the key evidence, which was circumstantial.

Another case which the Committee for the Protection of Civic Rights wants to be reviewed is the brutal murder in 2011 of a young man, Martin Neskovski, by a police officer. Wiretapped recordings released by the former opposition Social Democrats, who are now in government, indicate the police may have attempted a cover-up.

The suspicious death of prominent journalist Nikola Mladenov in 2013, which was declared an accident ,and the ongoing trial against 29 ethnic Albanians accused of involvement in a shootout with police that left 18 dead in the town of Kumanovo in May 2015, are also among the cases that have been widely deemed suspicious.

Many other cases, including those dubbed ‘Sopot’‘Brodec’ and ‘Liquidation’, the case which saw journalist Tomislav Kezarovski sent to jail, are also being mentioned as possible candidates for review.

The suspicion of political involvement in these cases was boosted by the European Commission's last few annual progress reports on Macedonia in which it spoke of "selective justice", which the reports said was most pronounced in high-profile court cases.

The draft law, which has been sent to the newly-established Council for Judicial Reforms, a government advisory body made up of prominent legal experts, envisages that the retrials should be done by the primary courts, but not by the same judges that presided over the original procedures.

The Justice Ministry told Alsat M TV on Monday that parliament and legal experts should identify the politically-motivated cases which need a retrial in order to “make one more step towards restoring people's trust in [the country’s] institutions”. 

The new government led by Zoran Zaev, which was elected in May after a prolonged political crisis and the refusal of the VMRO DPMNE to step down, has promised judicial reform and a thorough review of problematic cases as part of it.

The new government said in its manifesto that its ministries “will give complete logistical support to the prosecution and courts in opening and conducting procedures in the ‘Sopot’ and ‘Brodec’ cases, the deaths of Martin Neskovski and of Nikola Mladenov, and in the ‘Monster’ case”.

Zaev told media last week that the authorities plan to call for international legal assistance in the Kumanovo shootout case to ensure that there is no political meddling in this sensitive trial.

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