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Al Jazeera Balkans crew attacked at a right-wing opposition party protest in Skopje

Categories: Advocacy, Free Expression, Harassment, Human Rights, Media, Protest, Macedonia, Eastern & Central Europe
Milka Smilevska, journalist [1]

Reporter Milka Smilevska, Al Jazeera Balkans correspondent from Skopje, North Macedonia. Photo used with her permission.

This story is based on reporting by Global Voices’ content partner Meta.mk News Agency [2], a project of the Metamorphosis Foundation

During a protest [3] organized by right-wing opposition party VMRO-DPMNE on September 9 in the center of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, two Al Jazeera Balkans journalists were attacked and obstructed in doing their work.  

While the reporter Milka Smilevska and cameramen Jorde Angelovik were taking a statement from one of the protesters, the attacker—another participant in the protest—approached them and first asked Smilevska whether she reports for Al Jazeera Balkans and then pushed her, forcing her to drop her microphone on the ground.

The journalist immediately reported the incident to a police officer who was standing nearby, and led them to the perpetrator who was in the crowd of protesters. The police then detained him.

[4]

Screencap from the video the journalist posted on Facebook depicting the attacker. Fair use.

Smilevska described the violent incident in a public Facebook post containing two videos [5] that recorded what happened.

Dečkoto na prvoto video što go prijaviv na policaecot, ne napadna so kolegata Jorde i mi go butna mikrofonot dodeka snimav izjava, prethodno me praša dali sum od Al Jazeera i toa beše povod za napadot. Policijata go privede i kje mu podnese prijava. Jas nema da go tužam. Na vtoroto video se sluša koga mikrofonot pagja. Koga go privede policaecot ne sakaše da se legitimira.

Nema potreba od agresija, borbata treba da e so argumenti i dela. Demokratijata znači i različni mediumi, ako nekoj ne vi se dopagja ne go gledajte ili čitate, ne go napagjajte fizički.

I reported the lad shown in the first video to the policeman because he attacked me and my colleague Jorde, pushing my microphone while I was taking a statement. He previously asked me if I'm from Al Jazeera and that was the pretext of the attack. The police have detained the perpetrator and will press criminal charges. I will not sue him for damages. In the second video you can hear the sound of the microphone dropping to the ground. When the police approached the man, he refused to identify himself with an ID.

There's no need for aggression, the [political] struggle needs to take place with arguments and deeds. Democracy means [the presence of] different media, and if you don't like some of them, don't watch them or read them, don't attack them physically.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers condemned the attack on the Al Jazeera crew and called on the Ministry of Interior to sanction the attacker whose picture is publicly available. They issued a joint press release [6] stating the following:

Ваквиот однос кон новинарите кои се на работна задача на терен е неприфатлив и потребно е да биде строго казнет од страна на Министерството за внатрешни работи затоа што насилството кон новинарите не е дозволив во демократски земји. Доколку ваквите инциденти се толерираат во иднина има ризик да се охрабрат нови посериозни насилства кон новинарите, а со тоа дополнително да се загрози нивната безбедност, правото на слобода на изразување како и правото на информирање на граѓаните.

This behavior towards the journalists who are on duty is unacceptable and it should be sanctioned by the Ministry of Interior because violence towards journalists is not allowed in democratic countries. If these incidents are tolerated there is a risk of encouraging new and more serious violence against journalists in near future, and that will additionally jeopardize their safety, freedom of expression and the right to inform the citizens.

The protest’s organizer VMRO-DPMNE also issued a press release [7], in which it condemned any type of violence and obstructions of the work of journalists. They called on the authorities to clear out the circumstances about the incident at the protest.

The ruling party SDSM also issued a press release [8] condemning the attack, blaming the organizer for “bullying and degrading relations towards journalists,” and claiming they didn't apologize for the incident to the attacked female journalist.

In a column [9] for the investigative reporting portal Prizma published on September 11, journalist Milka Smilevska, described the incident in detail and also added that the organizers phoned her to apologize directly. She pointed out to the additional hardship journalists face when they have to deal with subsequent political manipulations related to such incidents.

Токму поради ваквата ситуација и ваквите реакции, новинарите се обесхрабруваат да реагираат бидејќи не сакаме етикети, кои секако ни ги лепат. Не сакаме да нè ставате ни во едни, ни во други табори, ние сме само новинари повеќето од нас во нашата работа сме водени од јавниот интерес.

Се надевам дека ова ќе биде добар пример за сите новинари и медиумски работници, дека без оглед на сѐтреба да реагираме и да не молчиме кога некој ќе нѐ нападне на терен.

Precisely this kind of situation and such reactions discourage journalists to react to this kind of incidents, because we don't want to be labeled as partisan, even though we'll be labeled anyway. We don't want to be put in neither party camp, we are just journalists, and most of us are guided by the public interest in our work.

I hope this case will serve as a good example for all journalists and media workers, that regardless of circumstances we need to react and not keep silent when someone attacks us on the field while we are in the line of duty.