New York, October 24, 2013--Authorities in Macedonia should reverse on appeal the conviction of a prominent investigative journalist who has been imprisoned since May, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Tomislav Kezarovski, a critical reporter at the national daily Nova Makedonija, was arrested on May 29 in his hometown of Veles, and his trial started in early August. On Monday, he was convicted of revealing the identity of a protected witness in a 2005 murder case, according to news reports. The court sentenced him to four and a half years in prison, and refused to release him while he appeals the decision.
The journalist's conviction stems from his reporting for the now-defunct independent weekly Reporter 92 in 2008. Local journalists told CPJ that Kezarovski had criticized the Macedonian national security service (DBK) for pressuring and intimidating people into giving false testimony in criminal cases. Kezarovski also revealed the name of a witness in his article that criticized the police's handling of a 2005 murder case.
But the witness that Kezarovski had named in his 2008 article did not have protected status at the time, according to news reports and local journalists. In February 2013, the witness told a court that he had received protected status in 2010. The witness also testified that he had been pressured by police to give fabricated evidence in the murder case, exactly as Kezarovski had reported. Upon his testimony, the imprisoned defendants in the murder case were released, news reports said.
"My articles revealed only breaches of justice procedures and criticized the works of the interior ministry and the justice system," Agence France-Presse quoted Kezarovski as saying during his trial.
At the time of his arrest in May, Kezarovski was investigating the death of Nikola Mladenov, owner of the critical independent paper Fokus, in a car crash in March. On April 1, Kezarovski wrote an article, published in the daily paper Nova Makedonija, that raised questions about the police investigation into the crash and authorities' treatment of the case as an accident. The circumstances of the crash also raised questions among Mladenov's colleagues at Fokus.
"We call on authorities to release Tomislav Kezarovski pending appeal and for Macedonia's judiciary to overturn his conviction," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "The timing of Kezarovski's arrest and imprisonment, and his critical reporting about the police and judiciary, shed serious doubt on the fairness of his prosecution and trial."
Local journalists have repeatedly organized rallies in Kezarovski's support.