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Macedonian journalist receives unprecedented prison sentence

Tomsilav Kezarovski was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for articles that revealed the first name of a protected witness in a 2008 murder case. According to an earlier alert by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the protected witness recently testified that he had in fact given false evidence against the accused killers. It should be noted that Kezarovski had been investigating the death of a fellow journalist at the time of his arrest.

Skopje – The South East European Network for Professionalization of Media endorses the following statement by the Initiative Board for the release of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski:

“The judgment of the Basic Court 1 in Skopje, which sentenced journalist Tomislav Kezarovski to four years and six months in prison is nothing short of scandalous, completely unjustified and without precedent in European jurisprudence, and it represents yet another nail in the coffin of the already buried freedom of expression in the Republic of Macedonia.

The Initiative Board for the release of Kezarovski believed in the consciousness and conscience of the trial judges in the court in Skopje and that they were aware that they are [judging] a journalist who, by doing his job, reported on the illegal actions of people of power within the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Directorate of Security and Intelligence, in a murder case in the village of Oreshe.

We closely monitored the procedure during which the only evidence presented against Kezarovski were two articles published in the magazine Reporter 92 in November- December 2008.

By delivering this scandalous verdict, the court refused to evaluate the articles and was unable to come to the conclusion that the journalist had a clear and unequivocal public interest to inform the public that the police is inserting a false protected witness against the accused in the murder case in the village of Oreshe – even more so, given that the jeopardized witness, Zlatko Arsovski exposed himself and admitted that he was blackmailed by the police in order to become a protected witness. The court also ignored the fact that by releasing the record from the hearing, Kezarovski disclosed only the name, but not the surname of the jeopardized witness, with which his exact identity could not be revealed.

The judges obviously succumbed to heavy pressure and influence from the centers of power, so they chose to disregard the facts. They merely attributed the indictment in the ruling – which states that Kezarovski committed a crime – to revealing the identity of a jeopardized witness.

This is evidenced in the four year and six months prison sentence for the journalist, which is a drastic penalty for this crime, and is unprecedented in European jurisprudence. Even in trials before the Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, journalists who revealed identities and published whole lists of names of protected witnesses in trials for genocide and mass murder were sentenced to 3 or 6 months of prison.

This unreasonable verdict and draconian penalty is the ultimate showdown with the freedom of media and freedom of expression and a direct public message to Macedonian journalists who dare to investigate and write about the abuses of authority and power – that they will surely end up behind bars.

We hope that this shameful verdict will raise the awareness of the democratic and the free public in Macedonia from which we expect full support by jointly acting towards bringing sense to judicial and political power in Macedonia.”

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