The criminal court in Skopje found Kezarovski guilty on Monday of revealing the identity of the murder witness in an article he wrote in 2008 for Reporter 92 magazine, after a trial that saw the government come under fire for allegedly trying to stifle press freedom.
Seven other people, including a judge, a public prosecutor, lawyers and former judges also sentenced to jail terms for their involvement in helping the defendants in the murder case known as ‘Orese’ to avoid justice.
A former judge in the central town of Veles was sentenced to five and a half years in jail, while a public prosecutor from the same town received four and a half years. A current judge from Veles got two and a half years in jail.
Despite Kezarovski’s promise that he won’t try to flee the country, the court prolonged his detention in Skopje prison until his jail sentence enters into force.
|OSCE media freedom representative deeply concerned|
|OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic today expressed deep concern about the sentencing of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski to four and a half years in prison by the Skopje Court.|
“I am appalled by today’s sentence. This excessive conviction is a worrying development and sends a clear message of censorship to other journalists in the country,” Mijatovic said.
“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,” Mijatovic said.
“I reiterate my call to the authorities for Kezarovski’s urgent release; and also remind them of my official request to visit him in the detention centre where he is held. I hope this request is treated as a matter of priority,” Mijatovic added.
The defence lawyers for all the defendants said their would appeal against the verdict to a higher court.
The case against Kezarovski attracted a lot of criticism for the centre-right government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
Local and international media organisations and watchdogs, including the OSCE, have accused the government of targeting the journalist for his writing and criticised the authorities for holding him for an inexplicably long time in detention – almost five months.
OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic’s office recently told Balkan Insight that she “remains concerned regarding the case and she repeatedly asked the authorities to release Mr. Kezarovski”.
The government has also taken flak recently for dodging requests by the country’s Journalist’s Association for Kezarovski to be pardoned.
Prime Minister Gruevski has distanced himself from responsibility, insisting the courts were independent from political interference.
In 2008, police said they had found the people behind the 2005 murder of 57-year-old Lazar Milosevski in the village of Orese near Veles.
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.
But Kezarovski pleaded not guilty.
“My texts have revealed a public secret about the work of the courts and the breach of court rules. They are [also] a criticism of the work of the police ministry,” Kezarovski told the court during the trial.
The conviction of the journalist comes against a background of the widespread closure of media outlets that were critical of the government over the past few years, which has prompted growing concern about press freedom in the country.