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North Macedonia: Women protest over online sexual harassment

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AP

Young people wearing face masks carry banners during a protest march through downtown Skopje, North Macedonia, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Several hundred mostly young people have gathered in front of the North Macedonia's Interior ministry on Wednesday to protest sexual harassment of women on social media and policy of impunity for that kind of violence. Some of the banners read in Macedonian: "The Victim is never guilty!", "Cops asleep - Rapists awake", "State not acting is state raping", "Public Room is a criminal act". (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE – Hundreds of protesters gathered outside North Macedonia’s Interior Ministry called on the government Wednesday to crack down on private messaging groups sharing unauthorized and often explicit photographs and videos of women and girls.

The demonstration followed revelations that one chat group on the encrypted platform Telegram was sharing photos and videos with more than 7,000 members. Some users posted the names and addresses of the featured girls and women.

“We're here because we don't feel safe,” Kalia Dimitrova, 29, a member of a local human rights group, said at the protest. “I refuse to accept that I should hide when I’m attacked…This has to end.”

The Telegram chat group, titled Public Room, was discovered last year and reemerged in January despite assurances by authorities that its activity had been halted.

North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev threatened last week to block Telegram if it refused to provide greater assistance to shut down Public Room and other similar groups.

Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski said four people were recently arrested in connection with the case. The minister gave no further details.

Several women at Wednesday's protest said their photographs were stolen from hacked social media accounts.

A woman who spoke at the protest and identified herself only as Ana urged authorities to introduce legislation that would reduce online sexual harassment and strengthen police powers.

“It is a high time for this to end,” she told the protesters. “We need legislation for this to provide a better future for us and generations to come.” Telegram could not be immediately reached for comment.