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Macedonia Imprisons Investigative Journalist For Reporting On Local Murder

A criminal court in Macedonia's capital city of Skopje found journalist Tomislav Kezarovski guilty for allegedly revealing the name of a protected witness in a high profile murder case from 2005, and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison. Journalists and media workers in Macedonia and other countries are condemning the sentence, handed down on October 21, 2013.

"Freedom for Kezarovski", a frequent image that has been circulating the Macedonian Web and social networks recently.

“Freedom for Kezarovski”, a frequent image that has been circulating the Macedonian Web and social networks recently.

Kezarovski, a well-known investigative reporter, was arrested in May 2013 for a story he wrote five years ago – about the murder of 57-year-old Lazar Milosevski in the village of Orese near Veles – for a publication that no longer exists. Coincidentally, in February 2013 and before Kezarovski's arrest, a “protected” witness in that case came forward to claim that he had falsely testified against the defendants in the Orese case because he had been threatened by the police.

In the months prior to his arrest, Kezarovski had also been investigating an unrelated case – the death of Nikola Mladenov, who was the publisher and editor of an independent media outlet – and had brought to light certain discrepancies in what officials had labeled as a “classic traffic accident” in which Mladenov was killed.

The official reason for Kezarovski's arrest in May and sentence in October, however, is endangering a protected witness and, thus, helping in overturning the convictions of the men sentenced for the Orese murder. As Balkan Insight reveals:

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 this year, a former protected witness, Zlatko Arsovski, admitted falsely testifying against the defendants, saying he did so after threats from the police.

The sensational 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.

OSCE Media Freedom representative Dunja Mijatović has made several statements since Kezarovski's arrest in May expressing concern that the case will lead to more stifling of media in Macedonia and the region. Upon hearing the sentence Kezarovski received, Mijatović reiterated her concern in an official OSCE statement:

Today’s verdict has serious consequences for free expression and media freedom. Criminal prosecution of reporters for their journalistic activities violates the fundamental human right to free expression and the country’s OSCE commitments to develop and protect free media.

Social networks have been overwhelmed since the reading of Kezarovski's sentence with outrage and concern, coming mostly from Macedonian journalists and their colleagues from other countries. Twitter user @MoPkoB4E, a Macedonian living abroad, said:

Elena Stavrevska also commented on Twitter:

No, no need to choose political affiliation for the sentencing of #Кежаровски to have a direct impact on you. There is no yours and ours on this one!

— Елена (@EStavrevska) October 21, 2013

Twitter user @sheretoto added:

The sentence for #кежаровски [#kezarovski] is shameful for the justice system, for the state and above all for all of us. I feel defeated and so empty today. I'm going to throw up

— x→∞ t=0 (@sheretoto) October 21, 2013

Aleksandar Sazdovski was among the many media workers who could not hide his disgust, reminding everyone of the 2012 tragedy in which Miodrag Jovanovic, mayor of small town Staro Nagoricane near the Serbian border, hit and killed a man [mk] with his car, then fled the scene. Jovanovic was never detained for this incident or charged with anything and later was named CEO of a government-owned company.

Justice in Macedonia: mayor kills a man with his car and becomes a CEO. A journalist writes and gets four and a half years in prison. #Кежаровски

— Aleksandar Sazdovski (@sazspasm) October 21, 2013

Journalists and watchdog organizations around the world were also deeply concerned with the entire case from beginning to end and are protesting the disproportionate sentence online. On the day of sentencing, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle also tweeted from his official account:

Tomislav Kezarovski has not officially begun to serve his sentence, but he has been refused release by the Skopje court and will remain in detention until his sentence begins. This case, however, seems to be far from over, and online Macedonian journalists are calling for protests in Skopje to demand his release.

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