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Protests erupt in Macedonia after wiretapping probe is torpedoed

Date: 
Thursday, April 14, 2016
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Macedonia's capital Skopje is bracing itself for another night of protests and clashes after the interim President announced on Tuesday that there will be an amnesty for everyone under investigation in a formal probe into illegal wiretapping.

The investigation into the wiretapping scandal, which was the focus of Privacy International's report released last month, Macedonia: Society on Tap, also focused on other serious crimes, including electoral fraud, blackmail and the torture of a former minister.

Last year, intercepts were published online by the main opposition party which claimed provided proof that the party in power had been unlawfully monitoring some 20,000 people for several years, including, activists, journalists, judges, diplomats, opposition leaders – even members of the government itself. 

Activists and journalists who had received recordings of their private phone conversations recounted to Privacy International how their lives had been impacted, their work undermined, and their networks and sources put at risk. Our report analysed how the Government’s direct access to the telecommunications network facilitated by telecommunications operators had led to the wiretapping, and the role played by foreign companies selling surveillance technologies to Macedonia.

The wiretapping revelations last year led to street protests and a major political crisis. The European Union, which plays a prominent role in the domestic politics of membership candidate Macedonia, brokered an agreement which saw the incumbent Prime Minister and head of the intelligence agency step down and setting in motion fresh elections. Also announced was an independent investigation into the allegations of wiretapping, led by a Special Prosecutor. 

Tuesday's announcement that all of the individuals under investigation will be immune from prosecution will fatally undermine any ability to bring clarity, accountability and justice to the country.

For the EU, whose priorities in Macedonia appear to be firmly fixed on efforts to stop those fleeing war crossing its territory, the task will be to bring its focus to this crisis, if it wants to promote accountability, democracy, stability and security.