SKOPJE (Reuters) - A Macedonian journalist has been jailed after being convicted of revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial, a ruling condemned by rights groups concerned over deteriorating media freedoms in the ex-Yugoslav republic.
Tomislav Kezarovski was taken from his home by police late on Friday and jailed hours after Macedonia’s Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and reduced his sentence from four and half years to two years.
Kezarovski was originally arrested in May 2013 and has spent much of the time since then either in jail or under house arrest, leaving just over three months of the new sentence to serve.
“Just one day in prison for an innocent journalist is a terrible punishment and greatly harms freedom of speech and media freedom,” said Naser Selmani, president of Macedonia’s Association of Journalists.
Kezarovski, a journalist for the Skopje-based daily Nova Makedoniya, was arrested over a story published in 2008 quoting from an internal police report leaked to him concerning a murder trial. The witness in question later admitted giving false testimony under pressure from police.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the witness had not actually been given protection at the time the article was written and Kezarovski maintains he was arrested in order to make him reveal the identity of the person who leaked the report, the watchdog said in a statement.
“His only wrongdoing was to have pointed to shortcomings by Macedonia’s government and judiciary through his journalistic investigations,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of Reporters Without Borders Germany.
The case has revived concern over the state of media freedom in Macedonia under conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who took power in mid-2006. The country wants to join NATO and the European Union, but progress has been stalled by a row with Greece over the country’s name.
Macedonia’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index has plummeted from 34th in 2009 to 123rd last year. The EU has cited the abuse of defamation laws and the fact that independent news media are starved of advertising by state institutions.
“It is high time for the authorities in the country to ease the pressure on media and respect free and critical voices. Kezarovski should be released immediately,” said Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom representative of rights body the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Macedonian journalists called for a protest on Tuesday.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Rosalind Russell