SKOPJE / GENEVA (21 June 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, today expressed concern about the diminishing space for critical media in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The human rights expert’s remarks came at the end of a four-day visit to the country.
“I am deeply concerned by the use of multiple legal instruments limiting the space for an independent media, silencing important critical voices,” Mr. La Rue said. “The closure of A1 TV station and four other newspapers in 2011, and the recent the detention of the journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, give worrying signals about the situation of freedom of expression in the country.”
The UN expert commended the country for the recent decriminalization of defamation; however, he noted that investigative journalists and media groups are still under pressure. “Civil defamation lawsuits continue to proliferate, putting a serious burden on the functioning of some critical media groups who seem to be recurrently targeted by these actions,” Mr. La Rue said.
“I was glad to hear that the government is fully revising the first draft of Law on Media and Audiovisual Services presented last month, in light of the negative reactions to the first draft,” the Special Rapporteur said, but warned that the draft still posed several additional obstacles to freedom of expression in the country.
“Such an important law must never be designed and adopted without proper consultation with civil society, including in particular journalists associations and human rights organizations,” the rights expert stressed.
“The interference in the independence of the work of judges and lawyers seriously undermines the protection of all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” Mr. La Rue said, also stressing his concerns regarding the recent changes made to the composition of the Constitutional Court and the limited financial and administrative autonomy of this body.
The independent expert noted that the Law on Free Access to Public Information is an important instrument for the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression in Macedonia, but warned that “greater government and judicial efforts are needed to fully respond to the requirements established through this law.”
“Enabling different communities to have channels to express themselves and exchange information in their own languages is crucial to secure the universal realization of the right to freedom of expression,” the Special Rapporteur said, emphasizing the importance of cultural diversity in the media.
“I was glad to hear that the Government intends to revise the Criminal Code to address concerns that its provisions relating to hate speech are too vague, and can potentially be misused to limit freedom of expression,” La Rue said, while expressing concerns on recent attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).
During his visit, the independent expert met with senior Government officials, members of judiciary and legislative bodies, representatives of civil society, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists.
The Special Rapporteur will present his findings and recommendations in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.
(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13480&LangID=E
Frank La Rue (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/MKIndex.aspx
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx
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