A court in North Macedonia has sentenced 16 people, including a former interior minister, to long prison terms for their role in the 2017 invasion of the country's parliament.
The court on March 15 handed out the toughest sentence to former Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov, jailing him for 18 years after finding him guilty on charges of "terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security."
Cavkov was a public-security bureau chief at the time of the April 27, 2017, storming of the parliament building.
The court sentenced 15 other people to terms of seven to 15 years for similar offenses. One defendant, well-known opera singer Igor Durlovski, was acquitted.
Some of those convicted were accused of not taking steps they should have to prevent the invasion of the parliament building.
The invasion took place during postelection political unrest when about 100 nationalist demonstrators, some wearing masks, stormed the parliament building in the capital, Skopje.
Many nationalists sought to prevent the then-opposition Social Democrats from forming a government that included parties representing the country's ethnic Albanian minority.
Dozens of journalists and lawmakers were injured, including then-opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who is now the country's prime minister.
"The events were broadcast live, and citizens watched those terrible images with bleeding heads of lawmakers and journalists who were under attack, which undoubtedly caused insecurity and fear," Judge Dobrila Kacarska said.
Most of the convicted are former officials or supporters of the conservative main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which called the March 15 court rulings unfair and politically biased.
"This case was judged by political motives, not legal facts," the party's secretary-general, Igor Janusev, said. "[This] is a country where justice is trampled upon and the rule of law does not exist."
Another 15 people had initially been charged but were pardoned earlier by an amnesty law passed by Zaev's government.
Five of those pardoned were lawmakers from the VRMO-DPMNE who were seen as being key to passing the country's controversial name-change deal.
The country at the time of the unrest was named Macedonia, but it has switched its moniker to North Macedonia after a domestically divisive agreement with Greece, which objected to its use of the same name as one of its provinces.
The deal passed parliament after long, bitter opposition from the VRMO-DPMNE and other nationalists.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is reportedly under investigation in the case. He was sentenced to prison for corruption but has fled the country and has been granted political asylum in Hungary.
Gruevski's nationalist VMRO-DPMNE had been in power from 2006 until June 2017. Gruevski served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016.
North Macedonia Sentences 16 People To Long Prison Terms Over Parliament Invasion