Macedonian journalists were aggressively forced by police to delete their photos and video of arrests during ethnically charged protests that left trash containers burned and public facilities damaged in the Gorce Petrov suburb of Skopje.
As officers began detaining a total of 27 protesters, reporters from Radio Free Europe, NovaTV, and Focus say they also became a target of police for documenting the action. Police pushed and shoved journalists, with one officer even confiscating a camera to scrub the footage himself.
The riots during the evenings of 19 and 20 May, 2014 were a reaction to the killing of a 19-year-old recent high school graduate after he and his father chased a thief who had stolen a bicycle.
The suspect currently in custody for the murder is of Albanian ethnicity, and while riots created tension between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian populations of Skopje, Macedonian citizens of all ethnicities appealed through social networks to their fellow countrymen to keep calm and deescalate this situation.
Macedonian activist Biljana Ginova wrote on Facebook that all the people in the country should be sickened by the hatred. Her Facebook status was widely circulated on social networks and later spread to mainstream media sites.
Треба да сме револтирани оти полицијата која ја плаќаме не нѐ штити, не е на наша страна, таа е само оружје на истите сеирџии кои од фотелјите нѐ гледаат како гинеме
We should be revolted that we pay the police to not protect us, they are not on our side and it is used only as weapon by the same people who are watching us die from their armchairs.
Macedonia is home to 2.1 million people, of which 63 percent are ethnic Macedonian and 25 percent are ethnic Albanian. The country has a history of ethnic tension and intolerance, the most recent being the armed conflict of 2001 between Macedonian national security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents. That ended with the Ohrid Framework Agreement that granted greater minority rights for Albanians in the country.
Many minors were among those protesting on the streets throughout the suburban Skopje neighborhood, setting up barricades in the streets, throwing stones at the security forces, burning trash containers, and shouting slurs offensive to the Albanian population. The police threw flash bombs in order to disperse them, while elderly residents in the neighborhood begged police to use less force against the protesters saying, “Don’t drag them!”
A journalist from the web portal NovaTV, Sashka Cvetkovska, told Radio Free Europe that they had initially been granted a permit by police authorities to take photos and videos of the riots, but things seemed to change when the police started arresting the protesters:
Со многу висок тон и речиси насилно почнаа од нас да бараат да ги избришеме сами снимките. Една од колешките ја турнаа, мене ме влечеа за рака, не навредуваа. Јас одбив да ги избришам снимките, не ја дадов камерата, при што едниот од полицајците насилно ми ја одзема и почна самиот да брише
The started pursuing us and almost violently required us to delete the recordings ourselves. One of my colleagues was pushed, I was dragged by my hand and we were insulted. I refused to delete the footage and didn't turn over my camera, and after that one of the police officers violently took it and started deleting it by himself.
Journalist Meri Jordanovska for web portal Plusinfo said they witnessed police acting violently while taking a young man into custody:
Го влечеа за земја, го фатија за раце, а кога падна на земја го удрија со клоци. И ние тоа го снимавме и го фотографиравме
They grabbed him by the hands, dragged him on the ground and started kicking him. We photographed and filmed all of that.
The reporters filed a petition with the Ministry of Internal Affairs over the the police aggression, but it was rejected. A ministry press release stated:
Од извршените разговори со сите 34 полициски службеници кои учествувале во активностите на полицијата, не може да се утврди дека некој воопшто бил инволвиран во настан како што е наведен во претставката, односно одземање и бришење на снимен видео-материјал и фотографии.
After speaking with all 34 officers who participated in the police activity, we can’t determinate that anyone was involved in the event as it is specified in the petition, or confiscated and deleted recorded photo and video material.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe representative Dunja Mijatovic expressed deep concern over the behavior of police with the journalists covering the demonstrations in Skopje:
Новинарите мора да бидат во можност да покријат демонстрации слободно и без страв од малтретирање. Секое прекршување на правата на новинарите е јасно кршење на правото на слобода на медиумите и не може да се толерира.
The journalists must be able to cover demonstrations freely and without any fear of harassment. Any violation of the rights of journalists is a clear violation of the right to freedom of the media and can not be tolerated.
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia also contemned the aggression:
Making a pressure to delete and deleting photo and video materials by the police represents is direct violation of the Article 16 of the Constitution which prohibits censorship and guarantees free access to information and the freedom to receive and to transfer information . With this behavior the police prevented the journalists from reporting the event and put itself in the role of a censor who decides what should and what shouldn’t be seen by the Macedonian public.