Written by: Fatlume Dervishi and Adrian Kerimi
Violently attacked by protesters in the events of April 27, 2017 in Parliament while doing her job, journalist Melihate Rustemi was never heard, violence against her was not investigated, the perpetrator was not identified and was not convicted. The memory of April 27 for Rustemi is fresh and sad.
„Every time April 27 is mentioned, I feel like my body is shaking. Almost five years have passed since this unfortunate event and no one has asked me to say at least a word about what happened or what I experienced“, said Rustemi.
Journalist Rustemi, like many other colleagues, was among the protesters in front of the Parliament and informed the public about the events. They did not know what was about to happen.
„They were not ordinary protests with ordinary people. Different people came, stood in groups, talked briefly with each other and left. What caught my attention was the way some of the protesters were dressed. Many wore black hats, scarves with state and party symbols. Songs with nationalist content resounded everywhere. Everything that happened inside the Parliament was announced among the protesters. At one point I left the main street and continued to the entrance of the Parliament to see up close what was happening. There, protesters tried to open the doors and enter by force. I stepped slightly to the side and suddenly felt a strong blow and pain under my ribs, but I did not understand who did it and why. In the middle of that crowd, I could not figure out who hit me. I just heard insults directed at me and at the television station where I work. Nevertheless, I continued to report on the situation for several more hours until I felt the need for medical help“, Rustemi recalled.
The journalist does not know what the perpetrator looked like, but other fellow journalists and media representatives who saw the event remember that moment. Their testimony confirms that journalists reported under pressure, taking insults, physical and psychological violence during these events. Among them is Arben Zeqiri, a journalist from Shenja TV at the time.
„I was present standing next to the entrance of the Parliament. At one point a boy approached us, spoke to us in Macedonian and started threatening us not to film the faces of the protesters. I avoided him, saying that I was not a cameraman. In the meantime, he came very close to my colleague Melihate, but I could not hear what he said to her. I saw that he made a quick movement with his hand and after he left, I saw my colleague with watery eyes and scared. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that the individual hit her in the stomach. We wanted to ask for help from the police, but in the meantime an older woman started verbally attacking us as well, cursing us and insulting us in Macedonian,” said journalist Zeqiri.
Rustemi went to the city general hospital “8 Septemvri” for medical assistance. Police officers were there to register such cases. Rustemi says that she gave her data to the police officers, and the Ministry of Interior confirms that their officers registered the case.
The police report does not contain information about the perpetrator, nor about any further investigation of the case.
„We would like to inform you that in the electronic bulletin of the SIA Skopje for 2017 was recorded an event” Injury at work “for a journalist on Alsat TV – Melihate Rustemi, who on April 27, 2017, during a protest in front of the Parliament of RNM, was injured and transferred in the CGH „8 Septemvri“ for providing medical assistance“, respond from the Ministry of Interior.
It is not known whether the procedure has been submitted to other instances. The Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office told us to ask the Ministry of Interior if they had filed criminal charges for the violence against the journalist, without confirming themselves. The Ministry of Interior no longer answered the question about the criminal charges.
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia is aware of the institutional culture of impunity for attacks and violence against journalists.
„The judiciary seems to have a problem understanding that it has an obligation to protect the rights of journalists because it also protects the right of citizens to be informed. Institutions need to understand that an attack on a journalist is at the same time an attack on freedom of speech, the right of citizens to be informed and democracy in general“, said the AJM.
The journalists associations, AJM and the Independent Trade Union of Journalists of Macedonia are committed to encouraging legal changes, which, according to them, will improve the level of institutional protection of journalists and increase the penalties for perpetrators.
The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code are in parliamentary procedure, which will allow the attack on journalists to be considered an attack on an official.
„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 his/her 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 that is deprived of liberty, will be sentenced to six months to five years in prison“, reads the draft amendments to the Criminal Code.
AJM estimates that only through systematic solutions by changing the legislation can possible violence against journalists and media workers be prevented.
„By amending the Criminal Code in the provisions that define hate speech in accordance with the practice of the ECHR, as well as in the part of the powers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to act ex officio in the case of attack on a journalist and/or media worker, as well as higher penalties for offenders. At the same time, it is of special importance to establish a new department within the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will be in charge only of dealing with cases related to violations of the rights of journalists and media workers, their safety, as well as explicit hate speech against them, which is especially present on social networks“, added the AJM.
At the end of 2021, the first verdict in the history of the country was made for the language of hatred towards journalists. The case referred to the hate speech that was addressed to the journalists on the Facebook profile of AJM. According to AJM, this case gives hope that the case law will soon change and that threats against journalists will be treated with a greater degree of seriousness.
„The inactivity of the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office, as well as the long court proceedings are the reason why journalists are increasingly losing confidence in justice in cases when they are victims“, the AJM said.
The attacked journalist Melihate Rustemi also lost hope for possible resolution of the case and punishing the perpetrator.
„I do not believe. Not that it can not be resolved, but that there is no will for such a thing, given the fact that so far nothing has been done. These cases reduce the interest in this profession.
„There are many journalists who love this profession, but due to their insecurity in the field, they withdraw and do not continue to work in it“, said Rustemi.
On April 27, 2017, dozens of journalists were blocked inside the Parliament along with a group of MPs, who were the target of violence by a group of protesters. They were horrified to see violence by a crowd of protesters against lawmakers and members of the legislature and themselves were the target of the violence. Dozens of other journalists were also threatened and unprotected, reporting outside the Parliament on one of the most difficult developments in the democracy in the country. The microphone, the camera, the media logo, the headphones, and even the telephone in the hands of journalists and media representatives were reason enough for the protesters to be violent and offensive to those who were simply on duty.
The story was prepared within the project „Кeeping Journalists Safe in Situation of Crisis“; funded by the UNESCO program – „Global Media Defense Fund“ and implemented by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers.
The author is responsible for selecting and presenting the facts contained in this video story and for the opinions expressed, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not bind the Organization.
The references used and the presentation of the material in this video story do not imply the expression of any opinion by UNESCO regarding the legal status of any country, territory, city or district or its authorities, or regarding the delimitation of boundaries.