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15.09.2016

Fair Trial Sought for Montenegrin Investigative Reporter

by Dusica Tomovic, BIRN Podgorica*
Media organizations have demanded the release of the investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic folllowing claims that the prosecution pressured another suspect in the drug-related case to accuse him falsely.

Jovo Martinovic Jovo Martinovic. (photo: Courtecy of Martinovic's family)

The European and International Federations of Journalists, EFJ/IFJ, together with the Media Union of Montenegro, have called for the release of the investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic, urging the Montenegrin courts to ensure him a fair trial.

They say the case of the reporter, who has been behind bars for almost a year, has given rise to deep concern about the court proceedings.

He is charged with membership of a criminal organisation and with drug trafficking.

In a letter to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, which BIRN has seen, EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregard and IFJ president Philippe Leruth urge the authorities to consider his journalistic work as an explanation for his alleged contacts with drug traffickers.

Martinovic has insisted he is not guilty, saying his contacts with the other suspects were purely linked to his work as a journalist. His interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking were part of his journalistic work," they said.

We are shocked by the gravity of his possible sentence to more than 10 years in prison," the letter added.

Martinovic was detained on suspicion of participating in a drug trafficking ring last October.

He has always insisted that his contacts with the other suspects were solely linked to his work as a journalist.

BIRN reported in April that Martinovic had interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking scheme as part of his journalistic work. They were Dusko Martinovic - no relation - and Namik Selmanovic.

Dusko Martinovic, the main suspect, is also a convicted member of the "Pink Panther"  thieves gang. Jovo Martinovic worked with him on a series of TV shows by the VICE media group about the robbers.

He worked alongside Selmanovic when the French production company CAPA Presse hired them to contribute to research on a documentary about weapons smuggling.

The EFJ/IFJ letter was sent after Dusko Martinovic, the main suspect, claimed that the prosecution "blackmailed" him to falsely accuse the journalist of being a member of the drug ring. The local daily Vijesti reported that in return, prosecutors offered Dusko Martinovic the chance to sign a plea and obtain a shorter prison sentence.

The prosecution last week refuted the allegations, saying that all the activities of the special prosecutor for organized crime, Mira Samardzic, regarding the collection of evidence or plea agreements by any of the defendants, ceased on the day of the indictment, on April 8.

According to the findings of the prosecution, it collected enough credible evidence for all of the defendants," the prosecution said.

The other issue over which Jovo Martinovic’s lawyers have complained is the length of the pre-trial procedures.

He was indicted in April but the trial has still not been scheduled nor have his legal representatives received the documentation to prepare his defence.

The letter sent to Djukanovic urged the authorities to submit the case files as soon as possible and allow Jovo Martinović to prepare his defence at liberty.

"We demand that Jovo Martinovic be out on pre-trial release and that custody is not converted into imprisonment before the trial has even started," the letter reads.

The prosecution said it had submitted all the files to the Higher Court in Podgorica but had meanwhile launched a new financial investigation, marked "secret", whose activities should not "be confused with the investigation that preceded the indictment in April".

Support for Jovo Martinović

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) strongly condemns the prosecution and long pre-trial detention of journalist Jovo Martinović. Eleven months have passed since he was arrested in Montenegro – for doing his job as a journalist. Martinović did not support or commit crimes, as alleged, but was in touch with the criminals in question for his investigative work.

We believe that the current procedures – the arrest and the prolonged detention without setting a trial date – contradict with the European Convention on Human Rights. The role of Martinović as journalist must be finally reflected in this case. He must be released immediately pending trial. Furthermore, all charges against him should be dropped.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom supports Jovo Martinović not only with solidarity action, but also financially with 1,000 euros to cover a part of his legal expenses.

BIRN has learned that all of Martinovic 's assets have been frozen until the new financial investigation is complete.

Over the last 15 years, Martinovic has worked on the several high-profile journalistic research projects which have been published in the some of the world’s most influential media, exposing war crimes and organized crime across the Balkans.

Martinovic’s research formed the bedrock for an investigation which has received intense media coverage - allegations of organ-trafficking and other abuses by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, the insurgent force that took on the Serbian police and miilitary in the 1990s.  

He also worked on a radio documentary called "Massacre at Cuska", which looked at the killings and deportations carried out during the war Kosovo, which helped to prompt NATO to start carrying out air strikes against the then state of Yugoslavia.

 "In line with international standards of the Council of Europe, the courts must take account of his status as a journalist. The criminalisation of journalists who specialize in sensitive subjects poses an imminent threat to press freedom," the letter sent to Djukanovic said.

It also reminded the Montenegrin government that it is required to respond to the alert about the Martinovic case that was registered on the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection of journalism on April 13.


*This article is written by Dusica Tomovic, Balkan Insight, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and is being republished with permission and thanks.





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