By BosNewsLife News Center
SKOPJE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has condemned a court decision by Macedonia to sentence investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski to four and a half years imprisonment amid wider concerns over a reported crackdown on press freedom and religion in the Balkan nation.
“The decision and its brutal implementation are utterly unacceptable and appalling,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
“Kezarovski has done nothing wrong but fulfilled his role as a journalist to report matters in the public interests,” he added in remarks monitored Tuesday, October 22.
Kezarovski was accused of revealing the identity of a protected witness in an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine. The witness turned out to have provided false testimony under threat from police, the EFJ said.
It comes amid wider concerns about the influence of organized crime groups in the former Yugoslav republic, which came on the brink of civil war in 2001 amid an armed conflict between ethnic Albanian fighters and Macedonian security forces.
A judge demanded that Kezarovski revealed the identity of his source, but he refused.
The journalist was brought immediately to jail despite a bail request by his lawyer to stay out of prison during the period of appeal.
“We demand an immediate appeal of the verdict which is completely against European standards on freedom of expression,” said Gutiérrez. “Journalists must be allowed to carry out investigative reporting free from the threat of imprisonment and without being forced to reveal their sources.”
Since Kezarovskis detention in May, the EFJ and its affiliates in Macedonia, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), made several appeals for the release of Kezarovski.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other groups have joined calls for Kezharovski’s release.
EU officials have made clear the case could overshadow attempts by Macedonia to join the European Union.
In a recent progress report on media freedom, the European Commission, the EU’s executive, highlighted Kezarovskis case and demanded his release.
“It is outrageous that our government is ignoring these voices and continue to muzzle critical voices of journalists and the media with imprisonment,” stressed Naser Selmani, president of AJM.
“The verdict has only shown the world the reality journalists face in Macedonia,” added Tamara Causidis, president of SSNM. “We will not give up. We will continue to fight for Kezarovskis freedom until justice is done,” Causidis said.
Besides the perceived crackdown on critical journalists, Macedonia’s government has also come under pressure over alleged violations of religious rights.
Earlier this year, a Macedonian court sentenced the archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) to three years in prison on what his denomination and activists called “false charges” of money laundering, while fourteen co-defendants received suspended jail terms.
Additionally Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, also known as Zoran Vraniskovski, must handover SOC properties, including church buildings, to the state for allegedly laundering some 250,000 euro ($325,000), his church said.
Bishop Marko of Bregalnica, whose civilian name is Goran Kimev, Bishop David Ninov of Stobi as well as fourteen “priest-monks, abbesses, nuns and other faithful people of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric” each received two years suspended sentences for financial wrongdoing, the SOC added.
The independent Centar 9, or Center 9 in English, a Belgrade-based Balkan rights group, said the 47-year-old church leader was persecuted because of his Christian activities.
“Once he was in prison because he has baptized a child and another time time because of having a prayer service in a private home,” explained the group’s General Secretary Drasko Djenovic in an interview at the time. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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