Some six hundred Macedonian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to demand that a proposed amnesty for participants in last year’s attack on parliament be extended to other offences.
The prisoners’ hunger strike follows an announcement by the Macedonian government that it will grant an amnesty for those involved in the storming of the Macedonian Parliament on 27 April 2017, which left more than 100 people injured including current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
On Monday, some 600 prisoners in Idrizovo prison in Skopje refused to take their food, demanding “a general amnesty for all offences allowed by the Constitution, and also for life sentences to be lowered in line with European laws,” according to a letter the striking prisoners sent to the prison management seen by BNE Intellinews.
They also warned that the initial two-day strike would be followed by more, including by family members outside the prison, unless their demands are met.
Prime Minister Zaev has dismissed the prisoners demands and stressed that the amnesty only extends to those who were not found guilty of organising or committing violent acts during the storming of the parliament.
The amnesty is being offered as part of an political quid pro quo between the Social Democrat government and the conservative VMRO-DPMNE opposition to secure enough votes in parliament to pass the agreement signed with Greece on changing Macedonia’s name.
Last week a key witness on trial for taking part in the raid on the parliament told the court that the attack was directed by a command structure based in the VMRO-DPMNE headquarters in Skopje.
The attack on parliament took place as the outgoing VMRO-DPMNE was due to hand over the reigns of government to the Social Democratic Union. Around 200 VMRO-DPMNE supporters stormed the building just before the new majority in parliament elected its first ethnic Albanian speaker. Masked protesters threw chairs and punches at journalists and MPs before police used stun grenades to break up the mob.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Zaev of compromising Macedonia’s rule of law by offering any amnesty, but he says he is willing “to pay a political price” to see the name deal through as it will finally allow Macedonia to join NATO and open talks on membership with the EU.