Macedonian police suspected of torturing former minister

Macedonian police suspected of torturing former minister
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 29, 2016

Macedonia’s special prosecution said on March 28 it has launched an investigation against a former head of the intelligence service and six police officers for allegedly torturing former minister Ljube Boskovski, who was arrested the day after the June 2011 general election.

Boskovski is a former interior minister and member of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, but after splitting from VMRO-DPMNE to found the right-wing United for Macedonia party he became fiercely critical of the government led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski. His new party was considered a serious contender in the 2011 election.

The case is not likely to affect public perceptions of the government in advance of snap elections expected to take place in June, as most Macedonians were already aware of events during Boskovski’s arrest.

Boskovski was arrested on June 6, 2011 on suspicion of illegally funding his election campaign. Special prosecutor Fatime Fetai said in a statement that the Macedonian secret service's former head ordered Boskovski to be tortured during his arrest, which was conducted by several members of the special police force unit, Alpha.

She has not revealed any names, but in 2011 the head of the special police service was Gruevski’s cousin Saso Mijalkov. Mijalkov resigned following deadly clashes between police and an armed group in Kumanovo in May 2015,

According to Fetai, the aim of the police torture was to punish Boskovski for his criticisms of the government and top officials, mostly the cousins Gruevski and Mijalkov, during the pre-election campaign.

The arresting officers were instructed to use excessive force and to intimidate and humiliate Boskoski, even though he did not resist arrest, Fetai’s detailed statement said. They are suspected of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment under the country’s criminal code and the European Convention on Human Rights.

During the arrest, an Alpha commander ordered other suspects to use excessive force to violently bring Boskovski to the ground, then hold down his hands and kick him.

The whole arrest was filmed, and Fetai said that based on the evidence, all those involved in the arrest wanted the public to be aware of the torture.

Shortly after the arrest, police officers invited the media to watch as they forced Boskovski to stand facing an outdoor toilet for half an hour. The incident was broadcast by all pro-government media.

The criminal code envisages a sentence of three to eight years in prison for those found guilty for using force, threats or other illicit means that may cause mental anguish to their victims, while performing their duties.

However, the special prosecutors have not asked for Mijalkov to be detained, as he is not in office anymore. Nor have they asked for the detention of the other suspects, instead proposing precautionary measures, which means they will be banned from performing certain tasks while in office.

A 2015 report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) cites concerns about reported acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment by law enforcement officials in the Alpha unit. The authorities did not take their obligations under the Convention against Torture as seriously as they should have done, the report adds.

Boskovski, known among his supporters as "Brother Ljube”, is serving the last weeks of his five-year prison sentence after being found guilty of illegally funding his campaign by taking some €100,000 from a sponsor. His supporters claim the court was influenced by the ruling party.

Boskovski is a controversial figure who previously spent four years in detention in a Dutch prison in Scheveningen for war crimes he allegedly committed during the 2001 conflict in Macedonia. He was released in 2010 due to lack of evidence. In another case, Boskovski was charged with involvement in a gangster murder in 2001, but the case has been sent for a retrial by the Court of Appeals.

The investigation into Boskovski’s arrest follows the release of a series of wiretapped conversations incriminating senior government and state officials, released by the leader of the main opposition party, Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), Zoran Zaev, in early 2015.

In one conversation, Mijalkov told an an editor at a pro-government broadcaster about Boskovski’s arrest, saying he wanted Boskovski to be imprisoned and for the arrest to be made public.

This was among dozens of revelations made by Zaev concerning government involvement in the judiciary, election fraud, corruption and other scandals. The special prosecution office, which was set up as part of the July 2015 Przino agreement to overcome the political crisis in Macedonia, is investigating allegations based on the taped conversations.

The Boskovski case, named “Torture”, is the second case launched by the special prosecution. The first case, “Titanik”, is related to an investigation into suspected election fraud involving senior government officials.