SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s criminal court on Tuesday reduced the sentences originally imposed on two people and acquitted one in a retrial of the 2012 murders of five fishermen, which had rekindled strong ethnic tensions in the Balkan country.
Concluding a two-year trial, judges in the capital, Skopje, maintained the life sentences originally imposed on Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, both who have fled to neighboring Kosovo, and on Agim Ismailovic. All three were found guilty of terrorism.
Two other men were found guilty of complicity in the murders and sentenced to 15 and nine years, respectively, in prison. One defendant was acquitted.
All six men, members of North Macedonia’s largely Muslim ethnic Albanian minority, had been sentenced to life in jail in the initial trial in 2014. They have denied wrongdoing.
Defense lawyers said they were planning to appeal Tuesday’s convictions.
The killings of the five Christian fishermen in a lake near Skopje on the eve of Christian Orthodox Easter were described by prosecutors as a terrorism-related attack that aimed to destabilize the country, which has a history of ethnic violence.
The Supreme Court ordered a retrial in December 2017 after judges ruled that key facts in the earlier trial had been “wrongly and incompetently established” and that prosecution witnesses had offered contradictory testimonies.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up a quarter of country’s roughly 2 million people, took up arms in 2001 demanding greater rights. The seven-month insurgency ended with a peace deal that granted more minority rights.