Seventeen journalists in Macedonia were awarded 100,000 euros in damages earlier this month as a landmark wiretapping case wound up at the Skopje Criminal Court. The plaintiffs had charged the state with conducting illegal wiretaps in 1999 and 2000.
The affair, dubbed “The Big Ear” scandal by the local press, was originally disclosed in January 2001 by current President Branko Crvenkovski, who was the opposition leader at the time. In addition to journalists, many public figures were bugged. They included ministers, politicians, magistrates, businessmen, foreign ambassadors and Crvenkovski’s predecessor as head of state, the late Boris Trajkovski.
The journalists who filed the suit were from media outlets including Dnevnik, Kanal 5 Television, A1 Television, the weekly Fokus, Radio Free Europe, Sitel Television and Utrinski Vesnik.
Many of the journalists were unhappy with the ruling, and say they will press the case at the Council of Europe’s Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
“The journalists demanded at least 180,000 euros each for psychological distress and for the way the case was prolonged over seven years,” lawyer Dimitar Dangov said. “An appeal will follow in 15 days after the court verdict, as the law allows.”
No former government official has been brought to justice for the crime. Many of the plaintiffs called for the trial of former intelligence head and Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska, the official who allegedly carried out the secret wiretaps.Trajkovski pardoned both Dimovska and Aleksandar Cvetkov, the former head of the interior ministry’s Operational Technology Department, in 2003.
Had they not been pardoned, Dimovska and Cvetkov would have faced sentences of up to three years.
According to forensic evidence presented during the hearing, the Macedonian Interior Ministry and Makedonski Telekomunikacii were in possession of eavesdropping equipment at the time of the incidents. The court has ordered the two to split the cost of restitution.
“This case should be an example for the future, [showing] that illegal eavesdropping will be penalised,” journalist Hristo Ivanovski of Dnevnik said.
Sitel Editor Dragan Pavlovic Latas said a sentence is of enormous importance to democracy, offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the judiciary in the public eye.