If there is no beating – no attack on journalist is „recognized“

Written by: Biljana Nikolovska

This is an article about two former colleagues, employed in the same media, who today are no longer part of journalism and the media. They work in completely new professions, but they told their story about their end in journalism through the event that connects them, after which they ended their media careers. It is the so-called „Bloody Thursday“, the title given by the public to the incidents in the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia that took place on April 27, 2017, when a crowd of people and people in masks stormed the Parliament and attacked and held hostage some of the MPs from SDSM, and the MP of the Alliance for Albanians, Zijadin Sela, was also beaten. But that same night, some media workers, journalists, cameramen and organizers were also taken hostage, prevented from reporting on the event, which was in the public spotlight, and some of them were physically assaulted. Among them are two of our former colleagues. Journalist Gabriela Dimkovic suffered milder consequences, she wasn’t beaten up, but she had a series of traumas. The cameraman Nikola Ordevski suffered more severe consequences i.e. he was physically attacked. After much deliberation, they decided to sue the state, before the Basic Civil Court Skopje. But they are not the only ones. A group of journalists and media workers decided to take the same step, to file private lawsuits because the prosecution did not recognize them as damaged parties in the lawsuits that it initiated ex officio, and were related to the organizers and perpetrators of the violence.

The journalist suffered no physical attack- she received no indemnity, the cameraman got a blow to the head- he received indemnity

„The claim of the plaintiff Nikola Ordevski is PARTIALLY ADOPTED. THE DEFENDANT i.e. the Republic of North Macedonia is obliged to pay to the plaintiff compensation for non-pecuniary damage due to violation of personal rights to physical and mental health in the total amount of MKD 190,000, of which MKD 70,000 for physical pain, MKD 60,000 for fear and MKD 60,000 for mental pain&quot“.

This is the judgment with which the Civil Court through Judge Suzana Dimitriev found that in the events of April 27 in the Parliament, the state is guilty, so it should pay damages to the media worker who was there to convey the image, which was not at all beautiful through his camera. In the lawsuit filed by the cameraman, he stated that he was on official duty in the Parliament and that while the press conference of the newly elected President Talat Xhaferi was being held, an angry mob broke in. He pulled back in order to get out, but received a blow to the head, due to which he was unconscious for 10-15 minutes and did not know what was happening. For the next few hours he heard “kill them” and the roar of shock bombs, and all the time he did not know if he would survive. He remained locked up in the Parliament, without permission to answer the phone calls from the family, and after he was evacuated, he was taken to the City Hospital, and due to his injuries he was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit. However, the ombudsman, who represented the state, considered that the cameraman had no reason to receive compensation. He objected because a criminal procedure has already been conducted for the same event and responsibility has already been established and several people have been effectively convicted, due to which the obligation for compensation falls on the already convicted persons. However, in the end the court ruled that according to the Law on Obligations, and quoting several articles from it, the state is responsible if someone is injured during public demonstrations and events and should cover the damage, and then seek compensation from the organizers or from the hooligans during those public demonstrations. This judgment was rendered on November 15, 2021, it is first instance and it can be appealed by both parties. Ordevski, on the other hand, says that he has decided that he is tired of the court case, but also that he no longer works in the media business.

„The claim of the plaintiff Gabriela Dimovikj for compensation of non-pecuniary damage of MKD 350,000, due to violation of personal rights on the account of fear suffered, is REJECTED AS UNFOUNDED. The defendant i.e. the Republic of North Macedonia is OBLIGED to reimburse the costs in the procedure, in the amount of MKD 26,500“.

This is the verdict passed by Judge Artan Limani from the Basic Civil Court Skopje, in which the journalist who was part of the incidents in the Parliament demanded compensation from the State. But the judge ruled that she had no right to make such a request. In the lawsuit she stated that she heard a loud noise, screams, she thought it was over and that she was going to die, and the time spent in the Parliament was like eternity. After leaving there, she felt scared for days, could not sleep, and, although there was a slight improvement in the following days, her condition worsened again in early pregnancy. But that did not mean anything to the
ombudsman because he replied that it was clear that the state was not to blame, because it did not harm the journalist. There was also stated that she could file a claim in the criminal proceedings that were conducted for the same event, in which the perpetrators of violence are known and convicted. The court agreed with such allegations, especially since the plaintiff was not physically assaulted.

„Having in mind the provision of Article 166 paragraph 1 of the Law on Obligations, it is quite clear that the defendant, i.e. the state, is responsible only for damages caused by death, bodily injury or damage, i.e. destruction of property due to an act of violence, as in fact were the events of April 27, 2017. For the court, the fear suffered in the absence of bodily injury is legally relevant for compensation of damages, but by the persons who actually caused the violence. The Criminal Court in Skopje has found the perpetrators of the crime guilty and they are known to the plaintiff, who in another procedure can exercise her right to compensation for the fear she suffered“, reads the verdict of the Civil Court.

This verdict was passed in March 2021, but Dimovikj decided not to appeal to the higher Court of Appeals. She says that she does not trust the judiciary, which does not see the bigger picture of journalistic work and the responsibility to inform the public about such and similar events, and is afraid that the already high court costs will only increase.

Zvonko Davidovikj

The lawyer who wrote the two lawsuits and who represented the media workers free of charge is Dzvonko Davidovikj. He says that Dimovikj’s referral by the court to sue the convicts from the events of April 27 is very complicated, given the several cases and verdicts that the court passed in the criminal procedure.

„The Law on Obligations actually stipulates that the state is liable in case of death, bodily injury or damage due to acts of violence or terror during public demonstrations and manifestations, regardless of the guilt. Taught by the experience from the events of April 27 that took place in the Parliament, and where there were many journalists and cameramen who were doing their job, which in any case is in the public interest, I think that the Law on Obligations should undergo an amendment in terms of such events when it comes to journalists, cameramen and doctors, who must do their job in such circumstances“, said Davidovikj.

Discouraging judiciary, only five lawsuits filed, four ended in favor of the state, one still ongoing

The Law Office of Filip Medarski and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia have decided to help journalists who want to sue the state over the events of April 27, 2017 in the Parliament. Only five journalists and two journalist workers applied for the call and a total of five lawsuits were filed, despite the fact that on the night of „Bloody Thursday“, dozens of media representatives were prevented from doing their job. But the lawsuits also end ingloriously, at least for now in the first instance court. Four lawsuits have been dropped and one lawsuit is still pending. Of the rejected, three are on appeal, while only one is final and a request for protection of freedoms and rights has already been submitted to the Constitutional Court of RNM and an application is being prepared for the European Court of Human Rights.

„The rejection of the lawsuits is more of a legal issue than a factual one. Namely, the Basic Civil Court claims that according to the Law on Obligations, more precisely according to Article 166 in conjunction with Article 189 of the Law on Obligations, journalists had no right to seek compensation for the fear suffered because there was no bodily injury. However, Article 189 of the Law on Obligations stipulates that even in the absence of bodily injury, if the circumstances justify it, non-pecuniary damage can be awarded for the fear suffered. There is even a case law, a final court judgment where an amount is awarded only because of fear“, said Lazar Sandev, a lawyer from the Medarski law firm.

Lazar Sandev

The lawsuits filed by the journalists are based on two grounds, namely compensation for non-pecuniary damage, but what is even more important, in the name of the law and protection of freedom of expression. In the opinion of the lawyer Lazar Sandev, the involved journalists filed private lawsuits because the crime for which the defendants were prosecuted in the criminal procedure, for Terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order, is a crime against the state.

„Because of that, it was disputable whether the journalists will be able to appear in the criminal proceedings as victims. Therefore, in order to protect the law, within the legally prescribed deadline we had to file lawsuits seeking compensation from the state due to the existence of grounds for objective responsibility, i.e. that it did not take appropriate action to protect the journalists who were present in Parliament on 27.04.2017“, says Sandev.

Despite attempts to find out more details from the Court about the lawsuits of media workers related to the violence in the Parliament, they say that the AKMIS system does not recognize them by event, and if the services search by compensation for non-pecuniary damage, a huge number of cases will appear. But, they say, the court judges only on the basis of applicable legislation.

„It is a fact that the decisions made by it are first instance decisions, which are not final. According to the Law, they are subject to a regular legal remedy – an appeal, which is acted upon by the immediately higher competent court, which assesses the legality of the first instance decision. In fact, this court is doing its job and judging according to the applicable laws, and not on comments from the public, because they would obviously put pressure on the judiciary and its independent decision-making in each individual case, despite the evidence presented during the proceedings“, the court stated.

The Ministry of Justice does not comment on the court decisions, however it will make amendments in the law

„Respecting the principle of the independence of the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice cannot comment on specific court cases.” We received such an answer when we asked the Ministry of Justice, whether these rulings of the Civil Court „open the door“ for journalists to leave the scenes of incidents instead of reporting from them, because they are not protected, nor do they receive compensation from the state. However, the Ministry says that they have initiated the amendments to the Criminal Code, where an attack on a journalist will be considered as an attack on an official. The part for preventing an official person from performing an official duty, which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years, but also if the perpetrator insulted or harassed the official person or inflicted bodily injuries or threatened him with the use of a weapon, which is punishable by three months to three years in prison, now, among the others, includes journalists and media workers.

„A person who commits an act against an official, lawyer, doctor or other health professional, journalist or other media worker or other person who performs activities of public interest in the performance of professional tasks or in connection with the performance of professional tasks undertaken within its powers or a person assisting in the performance of public security activities or protection of the constitutional order of the Republic of North Macedonia relating to the prevention or detection of a crime, apprehending a perpetrator of a crime, maintaining public order or keeping a person deprived of liberty, will be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years“, read the amendments to the law.

The Ministry of Interior added that the changes will enable the Public Prosecutor’s Office to act ex officio.

„Imprisonment of up to three years is envisaged for assault on a journalist or media worker, for online or personal insults to journalists, thus enabling the Public Prosecutor’s Office to act ex officio for assaulting a journalist – thus fulfilling the long-standing “request of the media associations in the country“, said the Ministry of Interior.

But, despite the fact that these changes have been announced for several years, they haven’t been voted on. The Government adopted them, but not the Parliament. They are still in the parliamentary procedure, so the President of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, Mladen Chadikovski, on the International Day for the Elimination of Impunity for Attacks on Journalists said that April 27 is a symbol of impunity.

„What did we get from April 27 – we got another message that we are prevented from doing our job as the citizens deserve. And we are not here to ask for solidarity from the citizens, but we are aware that this is our common problem, us journalists and the public, which we are supposed to serve. That is why this is everyone’s duty and that is why we insist on justice. Justice for April 27 both for us and for those who we represent and for whom we exist, Chadikovski said.

Lawyers are also waiting for the changes.

I hope that the changes in the CC will bring positive changes in the performance of the work of journalists. AJM was very active regarding this issue and I think that such changes will reduce the so-called cooling effect, which means that journalists will feel confident that no one will be able to attack them, or if they happen to be attacked, the competent prosecutors will have to be more diligent and expeditious in investigating the perpetrators#, said lawyer Lazar Sandev.

The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is a European standard of paramount democratic importance. The protection of journalists from all kinds of attacks, verbal, physical, threats, preventing them to perform their work tasks will mean protection of the right to expression and freedom to inform the public.

Сторијата е изработена во рамки на проектот „Безбедни новинари во кризни ситуации“ (Кeeping Journalists Safe in Situation of Crisis) финансиран од програмата на УНЕСКО – „Global Media Defence Fund”, а во реализација на Здружението на новинарите на Македонија и Самостојниот синдикат на новинари и медиумски работници.

Авторот е одговорен за изборот и презентирањето на фактите содржани во оваа видеосторија и за изразените мислења, кои не се нужно оние на УНЕСКО и не ја обврзуваат Организацијата.

Употребените назнаки и презентацијата на материјалот во оваа видеосторија не подразбираат изразување на какво било мислење од страна на УНЕСКО во врска со правниот статус на која било земја, територија, град или област или тамошните власти, или во врска со разграничувањето граници.

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