OSCE slams jailing of Macedonia journalist

A Macedonian court Monday sentenced a journalist to jail for revealing the identity of a murder witness, in a decision the OSCE dubbed "worrying" for press freedoms.

The 57-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it was "appalled" by the "excessive" sentence.

Tomislav Kezarovski was sentenced to four and a half years in jail for "unlawfully spreading information and revealing the name of a witness in a murder case" in a 2008 article, judge Dijana Gruevska said while presenting the verdict.

The investigative journalist, who was arrested in May, pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial. His lawyers said they would appeal.

"My articles revealed only breaches of justice procedures and criticised the works of interior ministry and justice system," Kezarovski told the court.

Macedonian journalists and international media rights groups have protested repeatedly against Kezarovski's detention.

The OSCE said Kezarovski's verdict "has serious consequences for free expression and media freedom."

"This excessive conviction is a worrying development and sends a clear message of censorship to other journalists in the country," the OSCE's representative on media freedom Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement.

"Criminal prosecution of reporters for their journalistic activities violates... the country's OSCE commitments to develop and protect free media," Mijatovic said.

In 2008, Macedonian police arrested three suspects in a murder case, based on the testimony of a protected witness. The three were later released after the witness withdrew his statement, saying he had been threatened into making it by police.

Prosecutors accused Kezarovski of helping the defendants to identify the witness, making him vulnerable to pressure.

Seven other people, including a former judge and ex-public prosecutor, were handed jail terms of one to five years for their alleged part in helping the defendants avoid trial.