Peaceful Assembly

On 6th August 2020 citizens gathered in front of the government’s building in Skopje to protest against the decision of the Energy regulatory Commission to increase the price of electricity by 7,4 percent. A series of protests was also held in other towns (Tetovo, Kumanovo and Gostivar). The protests were peaceful.

In response to the results of the parliamentary elections which took place on 15th July 2020, thousands of ethnic Albanians joined the “March for Democracy” in Skopje. This comes after the Electoral Commission and the Administrative Court rejected complaints about alleged electoral irregularities. Opposition parties - the Alliance for Albanians and the Alternativa - organised a march to raise their voice against what they say is the theft of ethnic Albanians’ votes. They alleged that the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) pressurised voters in Albanian dominated areas and accuse the party of vote tampering. According to the organisers, this march aimed “to send a clear message that a country that is to commence EU accession talks must not allow some of its citizens to be deprived of their right to choose and be chosen, which in essence is a human and political right within the EU”.

The March for Democracy is not just a protest. It is a public expression of the will of the Albanian citizens in North Macedonia, who think that democracy and freedom of expression among Albanian citizens were seriously damaged in the last elections,”- the organisers.

Expression

LGBTI activist and president of LGBTI United from Tetovo, Bekim Asani, has been physically attacked near his office. The attack was carried out by two people who inflicted injuries on his face upon recognising him as an LGBTI activist.

Many condemned this case. The US Embassy in Skopje, the National Network Against Homophobia and Transphobia (NMHT), and the Delegation of The European Union to the Republic of North Macedonia called on the Ministry of Interior to take urgent action on this matter, to provide criminal justice, to prevent future violence and ensure a dignified life for all citizens.

"We call on all political parties to support the adoption of the anti-discrimination law by the new parliament as a matter of priority, thus developing international standards, and remaining committed to promoting the human rights of LGBTI people in the country."- Delegation of the EU to the Republic of North Macedonia.

The ruling party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), strongly condemned the physical attack on the activist Asani, stating that violence against any individual is unacceptable and called on institutions to find and punish the attackers. After the attack, Asani was personally contacted by the Interior Minister, Agim Nuhiu, who assured him that the police were fully involved in resolving the case. However, no one has been detained yet. In the meantime, Asani has been receiving death threats which state that he should drop the charges connected to the attack.

A week before the parliamentary elections were held, leader of SDSM, Zoran Zaev, through his Facebook profile wrote that he accepted the remarks of journalists about his way of communication after the constitutive parliamentary session. He stated that everyone is publicly responsible for their actions and that he has no intention to influence the work of the media and journalists. On the other hand, he stated that he wants to contribute towards reducing fake news and the cases of threats and insults towards journalists. The opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE reacted to this by claiming that the statement is insincere because in the past few years, as they state, Zaev has influenced all lawsuits and accusations against journalists, persecuted the media and failed to sanction cases of physical violence against journalists.

The latest July 2020 report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights finds that there was a resurgence of hate speech on social media in the context of the early parliamentary elections. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, hate speech and labelling - mostly ethnic in nature- were prevalent since many infected citizens belonged to several municipalities where Albanian citizens are in the majority.

The owner and editor-in-chief of the Ekonomski Lider (Economic Leader) news portal, Ljupcho Zlatev, has been charged for revealing official secrets. In two articles, Zlatev revealed classified secret police documents, which he allegedly obtained illegally. Following these events, media unions have shown concern and want to investigate why the news portal editor has been prosecuted and if in any way freedom of expression is endangered. If found guilty, Zlatev faces up to five years in prison. Zlatev is often perceived as a propagandist rather than a journalist and was part of the PR machinery of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Over the past two years, seven complaints of unethical and unprofessional conduct have been filed against Zlatev with the Journalistic Council of Ethics, a self-regulation body.

During the reporting period, two female journalists received threats because of their journalistic work. On 11th July 2020 journalist and correspondent in MIA (Media Information Agency), Tanja Milevska, received dozens of messages containing verbal abuses, hate speech, death and rape threats on Twitter and Facebook. This is due to her tweet asking whether Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament recognise the 2019 constitutional change making “North Macedonia” the country’s official name. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the Safe Journalists Network condemned the hate speech and threats towards the journalist and called on the authorities to take the necessary action to sanction the perpetrators, pointing out that previous cases of attacks against journalists remain unresolved.

The safety of journalists and the freedom of speech go hand in hand, along with the democratic features of a country. Such a public discourse in which journalists are most harshly attacked, with open threats to life, is inadmissible and unthinkable for a democratic society,”– Mladen Chadikovski, Safe Journalists Network.

Later in July 2020, journalist for Sloboden Pecat (Free Press), Miroslava Byrns, received a series of threats on her personal Facebook profile due to the publication of an article about a wedding that took place in Tetovo (a town where most of the population is Albanian), which indicated that it contravened COVID-19 emergency legislation.

The AJM asked that the Ministry of Interior and the Basic Public Prosecutor's Office take immediate action to identify the persons behind the profiles who threatened the journalist and arrest them.They state that the threats that she received are unacceptable, as Byrns had a right to inform the public about public gatherings which could have led to endangering public health. In connection to this, the AJM further calls on the authorities to amend the Criminal Code to guarantee higher protection of journalists and media workers.

We will continue to demand that the new government, as well as the new parliamentary composition, urgently proceed with amendments to the Criminal Code, which will guarantee greater protection of journalists and media workers. The journalistic profession is crucial for the functioning of any democratic state and that is why we believe that it is high time to legally protect professional journalists as one of the key pillars for protecting the public interest.”