Unconstitutional prevention of the protest for support of the journalist Kezharovski 23 October 2013
Today, October 23rd 2013, contrary to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, the Criminal Code and the Law on Public Gatherings, police officers prevented a peaceful protest from taking place and restricted the free movement of citizens. The protest was announced yesterday through the media by the Initiative Board for the Release of the Journalist Tomislav Kezarovski. The place, time and cause for holding the gathering were stated in the announcement. The initiative board called for a peaceful protest through which it was planned to symbolically express disagreement with the prison sentence of four and a half years for the journalist Kezarovski
A representative of the Helsinki Committee was present as an observer at the place planned for holding the protest. Even before the announced gathering, near the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Statehood and Independence (known as the Museum of VMRO) the presence of around 50 police officers from the regular police service and also from the rapid deployment unit was evident. Besides these units, it was noticeable that there were an additional number of concealed police officers who were located in the area and were in a state of readiness. Despite the fact that there were around 150 journalists and citizens present on the gathering that came to express their dissatisfaction in a peaceful and non-violent manner, all of the policemen were equipped with a special police equipment that is usually used for violent demonstrations.
By setting a cordon, all access to the museum was completely blocked, citizens were not allowed to pass through and the announced protest was prevented from taking place. The observer from the Helsinki Committee attempted to contact one of the senior police officers in order to point out to the policemen that this conduct is unconstitutional and illegal. The policemen answered that they do not know the reasons for the situation that has arisen and that they have been given orders from “upstairs” and they did not answer which police station is responsible for the restriction of the movement. The dissatisfaction of the gathered citizens culminated when the policemen used an unnecessary amount of physical force by using batons to prevent the cordon from being breached. Faced with danger for their physical integrity, the citizens quickly dispersed.
The Helsinki Committee points out that the right to a public gathering and the free movement of citizens is a fundamental value of the Macedonian constitutional order. The Law on Public Gatherings stipulates that a public gathering to peacefully express an opinion or to protest, can take place anywhere that is appropriate for that purpose, except in front of health institutions, kindergartens and schools. Therefore, the museums do not represent forbidden zones, they represent public institutions.
The Criminal Code stipulates that if an official abuses their office or competence by use of force or in any other way prevents or obstructs a peaceful public gathering from taking place, they will be punished with imprisonment of three months to three years. Because it is not the first time that a protest has been prevented from taking place and has actually repeatedly occurred several times in the last 4 years, the Helsinki Committee will press criminal charges against an unknown police officer that gave the illegal order to prevent the protest.