The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and its undersigned partner organisations condemn today’s conviction of independent journalist Jovo Martinović in Montenegro.
The court sentenced Martinović to 18 months in jail. His trial continued in the High Court of Podgorica, Montenegro, after he was charged by the Special Prosecution Office for A) the criminal act of creating a criminal organisation and B) the criminal act of unauthorised production, possession and traffic of narcotics. The judge in her verdict stated that he is convicted on both counts. She related both counts to Martinović's "work as a journalist", stressing that he used his "journalistic connection to connect three defendants", the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG) reports.
Martinović insisted he is innocent. He reports having received many offers and threats by the Special Prosecution Office to sign a false confession in exchange for his release so that the prosecution could justify their actions.
"We maintain that Martinović’s conviction is politically motivated. Throughout the detention and subsequent trial, his rights to a fair trial have been frequently violated", Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer of the ECPMF, said after the verdict. "Montenegro is a candidate for the EU membership and as such should comply with EU standards. It must introduce the rule of law and accountability at the highest level."
We question whether there was political pressure on the High Court in Podgorica in the case of Martinović which affected today’s decision. We are concerned that evidence (or the lack thereof) did not determine the outcome of this trial but rather the ruling party officials dictated the verdict.
Martinović has been an investigative journalist since summer 1999, enjoys a good reputation and has won several international awards. Most of his work was focused on organised crime, corruption, and human rights abuses - including war crimes - in the western Balkans. Martinović was arrested on 22. October 2015 on orders of the Special State Prosecution Office while working on a documentary for French TV Canal + about illicit arms trafficking from the Balkans to France. As such, he was in contact with the lead defendant in the trial over the man’s connections with French weapon smugglers. When the group was arrested for smuggling marijuana, the police labelled Martinović as a member of the smuggling group even though no evidence has been produced against him.
Martinović already spent 14 months and 13 days in detention following his arrest, and was released on 4. January 2017 pending trial. The ECPMF supported his case with legal aid.
"This verdict will affect not only Jovo but other journalists in their work and further deteriorate the already bad country's record in terms of freedom of expression and media", said Milka Tadić Mijović, President of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG).
We demand the immediate acquittal of Jovo Martinović and call on the Court of Appeals to overturn the verdict at the second instance. All charges against him must be dropped.
- The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
- European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
- Index on Censorship
- Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
- Ossigeno per l'informazione
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