Macedonia Must Secure Journalists Working Conditions

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is highly concerned for the safety and working conditions of journalists in Macedonia following the ongoing inter-ethnic violent protests taking place in the capital city of Skopje.

The recent life sentences pronounced by the Skopje Criminal Court against six alleged Albanian muslim radicals for the killing of five ethnic Macedonians at Orthodox Easter in 2012 is mentioned by media reports as the possible cause of the rising  ethnic tensions in the country.

BalkanInsight reports that the Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said « the state won’t let these protests escalate to an extent where they can jeopardise the interests of the people and the [country’s] institutions ». The Albanian and Kosovo authorities meanwhile have also appealed for calm after the unrest. In a joint statement, the Delegation of the European Union in Macedonia, the United States Embassy and the Missions of OSCE and NATO « urge all citizens to remain calm and refrain from violence » and « call on the citizens and the leaders of this country to come together in a spirit of constructive dialogue to address issues that undermine the mutual understanding and cooperative interethnic relations. All citizens have the right to demonstrate and express their views peacefully, but not the right to engage in destructive or violent acts. »

The EFJ reminds the public, the protesters and the national authorities that journalists cannot be targeted, detained or harassed just for doing their jobs as they have the essential obligations of gathering, editing and commenting news. The EFJ recalls that the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists (Charter of Munich, 1971) states that « journalists claim free access to all information sources, and the right to freely inquire on all events conditioning public life. Therefore, secret of public or private affairs may be opposed only to journalists in exceptional cases and for clearly expressed motives ».

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), an EFJ affiliate, has quickly reacted against the detention of the intern journalist Besim Ibrahimi, working for the Albanian-language daily Lajm,, who on Saturday was arrested by the local police on suspicion of taking part in violent protests.
For the head of the Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, ZNM, Naser Selmani, « the detention of the journalist Ibrahimi is a very dangerous precedent. Journalists who follow the protests, which are events of high public interest, to be arrested for alleged participation in disruption of public order is not comprehensible. The journalist Ibrahimi was present at the scene of the protests because he was doing professionally his job under instructions of his editor to monitor the protest. Ibrahimi categorically rejects all accusations that he was a participant in the protests and interfered with police officers in the performance of their duty. »

The Board of AJM expresses serious concern for establishing this extremely undemocratic practice in Macedonia of arresting journalists without having hard evidences. « We suspect that such efforts are not naive and aim to effect the reputation of journalists in the public and discredit the important role of the media as an important factor in the democratic environment in a free society. Such behavior of the police can deter journalists to monitor the protests but can also affect the way the media report on the protests and of the police behavior. We urge to the responsible institutions, prosecution and courts, to seriously evaluate all the evidences against our colleague Ibrahimi and not to allow the media to be incriminated with unfounded accusations. We notify that the enactment of this precedent will be a severe blow to freedom of expression and media freedom », said the AJM.

The EFJ and its affiliate AJM are welcoming the release on Sunday of the detained journalist and the decision of the judge in the prior proceeding, which rejected the prosecutor's request for detention and determined alternative measures to secure the presence of the journalist during the investigation.