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Macedonian authorities urged to release investigative journalist

The following is a letter written by Writers in Prison Committee Chair Marian Botsford Fraser to the Macedonian Minister of Justice regarding the prolonged pre-trial detention of Macedonian investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski.

Mr. Blerim Bexheti
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Macedonia
Dimitrie Cupovski 9
1000 Skopje
Republic of Macedonia

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you as Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee from PEN International, the global association of writers with members in over 100 countries worldwide. We are concerned about the prolonged pre-trial detention of the Macedonian investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski and believe he should be released without delay as the sole reason for his arrest appears to be connected to the articles he has written.

The UN special rapporteur for free expression, Frank La Rue, who was prevented from visiting Kezarovski during his visit to the country in June 2013, has also called for Kezarovski's immediate release from detention.

According to our information, Kezarovski has been in pre-trial detention for over four months. A reporter for the Skopje-based daily newspaper Nova Makedonija, he was arrested on 29 May 2013 for allegedly revealing the identity of a protected witness in two articles he wrote about a famous murder case which were published by the magazine Reporter 92 in 2008.

After his arrest, Kezarovski was given a 30-day detention order while the police investigated the allegations against him. However, on expiration of this 30-day period, Kezarovski's detention was extended by another 30 days. It has been extended in this way every month since he was arrested. The current detention order reportedly issued on 27 September 2013 is due to expire on or around 26 October 2013.

Kezarovski was a runner up for the Macedonia Institute for Media's 2012 prize for investigative journalism. His work has been highly critical of the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs and of the police's handling of protected witnesses. We are therefore concerned that his prolonged detention may in fact be in reprisal for his work.

We have noted reports that he has been charged under the Law on Witness Protection. We would appreciate receiving clarification of his current legal status and information concerning all formal charges which have been brought against him to date. We have noted reports that the 'protected witness' allegedly identified in Kezarovski's 2008 articles testified before a Skopje court in 2012 that he did not actually have protective witness status at the time the articles identifying him were written. This status was only given to him in 2010. He further testified that he had been forced by the police to give false evidence in the original murder trial. We would also appreciate clarification as to whether the witness concerned had 'protected witness' status in 2008 or not.

We are also disturbed by reports that a judge has pressured Kezarovski to reveal the name of his source of information for his 2008 articles and would appreciate your response as to whether this is indeed the case. As you will be aware the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasised that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights safeguards not only the substance and contents of information and ideas, but also the means of transmitting it. The press has been accorded the broadest scope of protection in the Court's case law, including with regard to confidentiality of journalistic sources. A factsheet from the ECHR on the relevant case law is enclosed with this letter. If Tomislav Kezarovski has been pressured to reveal his sources, this would appear to be a violation of article 10 of the ECHR.

PEN International considers that if – as appears to be the case – the sole reason for the prolonged detention without trial of Tomislav Kezarovski is his work as a journalist, then he is held in violation of his right to free expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Macedonia ratified in 1994, article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which Macedonia ratified in 1997, and by article 16 of the Macedonian Constitution. His continued detention may also constitute a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained and to a fair and prompt trial, as guaranteed by articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR and articles 5 and 6 of the ECHR.

I therefore urge you to do all within your power to ensure that the Macedonian authorities comply with their legal obligation to guarantee Tomislav Kezarovski's right to free expression by immediately releasing him from pre-trial detention and to allow him to continue with his public interest journalism without further unwarranted interference.

Finally, I wish to express PEN International's concerns regarding the draft media law currently under discussion in Macedonia, which has been opposed by journalists and media workers in the country. We understand that they fear that the proposed regulatory body would be neither transparent nor accountable, while being empowered to impose substantial fines and would have the potential to be used to censor journalists. The OSCE has commented, “The section on programme and expert monitoring risks having a chilling effect on broadcasters”. Again, I urge you to ensure that the draft law is reviewed so that in its final form it does not unlawfully restrict the right to freedom of expression.

Yours sincerely,

Marian Botsford Fraser
Writers in Prison Committee
PEN International
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