On his first visit to Macedonia, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood policy and Enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn said opposition claims about government surveillance of thousands of citizens need investigating.
“The investigation should be conducted in full respect of the principles of due process – impartiality, presumption of innocence, transparency, separation of powers and judicial independence”, Hahn said on Wednesday. He said the media needed complete freedom to report on issues of public interest.
In meetings with President Gjorge Ivanov, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Foreign Minister Poposki and opposition leader Zoran Zaev, Hahn expressed the EU’s concern at the overall political situation.
He urged politicians “to engage in constructive dialogue, within the parliament, focusing on the strategic priorities of the country and all its citizens.
“All leaders must cooperate in good faith to overcome the current impasse, which is not beneficial to the country’s reform efforts”, Hahn’s statement said.
The Commissioner added that fundamental rights and freedom of the media are at the heart of the EU accession process and non-negotiable.
On February 9, the opposition Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, accused Prime Minister Gruevski and the secret police chief, Saso Mijalkov, of conducting the illegal surveillance of more than 20,000 people. Zaev claimed that “all socially important people have been eavesdropped”.
He claimed that the Prime Minister had been receiving daily reports on his political opponents prepared by the secret services. The wire tapping, according to the opposition, included Gruevski’s own associates, senior politicians, opposition leaders, NGO activists, journalists, businessmen, academics, religious leaders, members of the judiciary and others.
At Zaev’s press conference 11 recorded conversations were published as part of the “first batch”, while at a second, held on February 15, another five recordings were published. These involved discussions between top state officials, judges and a pro-government news editor about the appointment of judges as well as court cases and prosecutors’ work.
The main ruling party VMRO DPMNE has dismissed the allegations as nonsensical and called Zaev “a puppet of foreign services”.
In a press release on February 10, the ruling party claimed the alleged wiretapping affair was part of a “created scenario in the interest of a third party that does not want any good for Macedonia”.
The party called on Macedonian institutions to “determine all the facts and circumstances, as well as motifs and goals of the inspirers, supporters and executors of this scenario”.
Ten days before Zaev started publishing his damning allegations, police ordered him to remain in the country and confiscated his passport. Hours before, Prime Minister Gruevski used an address aired on all main TV stations to accuse Zaev of attempting a coup.
Together with three other suspects, he has since been charged with “espionage and violence against top state officials”. Among the other suspects are Zoran Verushevski, a former secret police chief, who was arrested in mid-January and placed in custody. The other two suspects are employees in the police and are also detained.
For months, Zaev has repeatedly threatened to detonate a so-called political “bomb”, which he said would force Gruevski to resign.
After being charged with espionage, Zaev said it would not prevent him from publishing evidence that he said was obtained from domestic secret services, not from foreign intelligence. His opposition party said it would continue releasing recordings that would unmask the real nature of Gruevski’s regime.