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RSF and CIVIL condemn mass-scale illegal wiretapping of journalists in Macedonia

Reporters without Borders (RSF) and Civil – Center for Freedom strongly condemn the illegal wiretapping of journalists in the Republic of Macedonia and demand immediate measures to restore justice and the rule of law there. According to opposition leader Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian government illegally eavesdropped on some 100 journalists in order to cement control over the media.

“This mass-scale eavesdropping operation against journalists constitutes a massive assault on media freedom, calling into question every claim of the rule of law”, said Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporters Without Borders Germany. “If the government’s aspirations as an EU candidate are worth anything, those responsible for this massive assault on the fundamental rights of Macedonian journalists and all citizens have to be identified and brought to justice without delay.”

During a press conference last Wednesday (25 February), opposition leader Zaev played six audio recordings to demonstrate the extent of government influence over the media. According to his account, those wiretapped included both the editors of pro-government media and critical journalists like the deceased former editor of Fokus magazine, Nikola Mladenov (http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/opposition-journalists-tapped-en-masse-in-macedonia).

Such practices are against the national constitution and laws and in violation of international standards and legislation to which Macedonia is bound. Apart from violating the human rights and freedoms of journalists, they also call into question such basic principles as media freedom, protection of journalists’ sources and the basic rights of Macedonian citizens in general.

Zaev’s accusations are the fourth in a series of disclosures since early February in a massive scandal allegedly involving the wiretapping more than 20,000 people in this small country with a population of some two million. According to the opposition leader, charged last month by police with plotting to bring down the government, the operation was ordered and commanded by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the latter’s cousin Saso Mijalkov, the head of the State Security Service.

The Prime Minister has responded by accusing Zaev of being used by a foreign intelligence service which was itself behind the wiretaps. He declined to name this intelligence service but claimed the answer to this question was known to Macedonian services (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/25/us-macedonia-wiretapping-idUSKBN0LT25120150225). Yet Gruevski did not deny the authenticity of the recordings.

In recent years, media freedom has declined dramatically in Macedonia, whose ranking in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index has fallen from 34th in 2009 to 117th in this year’s index (http://index.rsf.org/#!/index-details/MKD). An interim European Union report on accession candidate Macedonia published last October criticizes the media situation there, including the misuse of its defamation laws and the fact that state institutions place almost no advertising in independent news media.

RSF and Civil have also vehemently criticized the verdict against Macedonian journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, sentenced on appeal in mid-January to two years in prison for allegedly having revealed the identity of a protected witness in an article published in 2008 (http://en.rsf.org/macedoine-rsf-condemns-sentence-for-16-01-2015,47490.html). Already having spent several months in prison and more than a year under house-arrest, Kezarovski has been spared the remaining prison time since the appeal verdict for health reasons.

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