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News 05 May 16

President Provokes Protests in Macedonian Prisons

Prisoners across Macedonia are launching protests to demand sentence reductions amid anger sparked by President Gjorge Ivanov’s decision to halt criminal investigations against top politicians.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Skopje's Idrizovo prison | Photo: BIRN

Inmates complaining of selective justice have announced protests will start at noon local time on Thursday in all Macedonian prisons, alongside parallel rallies in front of the prisons at which their relatives, supporters and civil rights NGOs will express their dissatisfaction.

The protests come after President Gjorge Ivanov declined a petition for a reduction of inmates’ sentences that was signed by over 2,200 prisoners, more than two-thirds of all those incarcerated in the country.

“They [the inmates] do not want to be released but rather to be granted a 30 per cent decrease in their prison sentences,” said lawyer Zvonko Davidovic, who submitted the petition to the president.

Davidovic said that inmates are outraged by the response they got from the president, who instructed them to file individual requests and sign over their power of attorney in order to be eligible for consideration.

“At the same time, the president pardoned half of the political elite and their collaborators without an existing law and without [requesting them to sign] a power of attorney. These are double standards and selective justice… inmates feel discriminated against,” he said.

The protests come against a background of a deepening political crisis in the country which erupted on April 12 when President Ivanov abruptly halted criminal investigations into 56 politicians and their associates, most of whom come from the ranks of main ruling VMRO DPMNE party of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, set up last autumn as part of an EU-brokered accord aimed at ending the country’s political crisis, was running the investigations into high-level crimes allegedly revealed by illegal wiretaps that were released last year by the country’s opposition.

Gruevski was the subject of six of the probes cancelled by the president’s order, which provoked a series of ongoing anti-government protests across the country which have been dubbed the ‘Colourful Revolution’.

Protestors in the capital threw paint balls at the Skopje Criminal Court on Tuesday, demanding the imposition of the rule of law and the creation of an independent judiciary. They accuse Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE of controlling the legal system.

The EU and US have also demanded that Ivanov withdraws his decision in order to revive efforts to resolve the Macedonian crisis and put planned reforms that would ensure fair elections back on track.

For years, the Public Ombudsman’s reports have described conditions at Macedonia’s largest prison, Idrizovo, and in other detention facilities, as sub-standard.

The prisons have been criticised for bad infrastructure, overcrowding and insufficient health protection as well as for housing many drug addicts who do not receive proper treatment.

The EU has also repeatedly warned Macedonia about the state of its jails, describing them as old, overcrowded and understaffed.

Conditions at Idrizovo have been highlighted as the most alarming because the prison should accommodate some 900 people but currently holds more than double that number.

BIRN asked for a comment about the planned protest from Lidija Gavrilovska, the head of the Macedonian Prison Administration, which is in charge of running the country’s jails, but received no response by the time of publication.

In her latest annual report on the Prison Administration’s work, Gavrilovska said that it had undertaken “significant activities to improve the re-socialisation process of inmates and improve accommodation capacities, as well as build up the capacity of prison staff”.

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