PEN International and Macedonian PEN: Joint Statement on Macedonian Free Expression
7 April 2015 – PEN International and Macedonian PEN are deeply concerned by the recent revelations that the Macedonian state has reportedly been subjecting its journalists and various state institutions to mass, unauthorised surveillance; we are also very disturbed by what appears to be an attempt by the Macedonian Public Prosecutor to pre-emptively censor journalists investigating allegations of government corruption.
Free expression, both public and private, is under increasing threat in Macedonia. In December 2014, a survey found that more than half of Macedonia’s citizens were scared to openly express their opinions and that almost two thirds believed that they were being exposed to state surveillance. Journalists and activists, so often the focus of heavy-handed tactics aimed at crushing criticism of the government, are being pushed into self-censorship by this fear of surveillance.
Their concerns were apparently confirmed in February 2015, when Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia announced at a press conference that he had obtained evidence showing that over 20,000 Macedonian citizens were being subjected to unauthorised state surveillance. He identified the Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski and his cousin, the director of the Counterintelligence Service, as being the drivers behind this invasion of Macedonian citizens’ privacy.
But unauthorised mass surveillance is only one of the tools that the state is reportedly using to silence criticism. On 3 February, ten days before Zaev went public with his surveillance allegations, the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement announcing that the “publishing of materials that may become the subject of further criminal proceedings is forbidden and punishable by law.” Amidst opposition accusations of mass corruption and abuse of power by the current government, this announcement – a deeply disturbing attempt at pre-emptive censorship – was clearly intended to frighten critics in the press and opposition into silence.
A free press, a free political opposition, and the right to communicate freely in private without being spied upon are cornerstones of a healthy, modern democratic society. PEN International and Macedonian PEN call on the Macedonian authorities to immediately end all unauthorised blanket surveillance of journalists and others in Macedonia. We also urge the Macedonian authorities to make explicit the meaning of the Public Prosecutor’s February statement, to clarify the narrow circumstances in which information will be treated as an official secret and to explain exactly how and when members of the media and all concerned citizens will know when such circumstances apply.
To read the statement in Macedonian click here.