Several Montenegrin and international media organisations have called for an acquittal in the case against investigative journalist Jovo Martinović , who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for drug trafficking in January. The appeal hearing in the case is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
Martinović’s acquittal would be “a great boon for the media freedoms and the rule of law that Montenegro aspires to conform to the EU standards,” said Nora Vehofsits, MP at the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).
“It’s time to stop prosecuting and intimidating investigative journalists working for freedom of information,” Vehofsits said.
A joint statement by the ECPMF and nine other media freedom monitors states that “the lack of justice and protection of free and independent media in Montenegro is of great concern and must be addressed with utmost urgency and determination.”
Gulnoza Said, Program Coordinator for New York’s CPJ Europe and Central Asia said, “Martinović was simply doing his job when he reported on issues of public interest. Jailing a journalist for his reporting creates a dangerous precedent and will have chilling effect in Montenegrin media.”
In 2015, while Martinović was working on two documentaries, one on an international group of jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers, and the other on weapons smuggling from the Balkans into France, he was arrested on charges of drug trafficking and participation in a criminal organisation.
The prosecution built their case on correspondence between Martinović and known criminals, and even though he could readily explain those contacts as forming part of his investigative work, he was held for five months before being officially indicted and then another six months in pretrial detention.
In August 2018 the 44-year-old journalist, who has worked for international media outlets such as the BBC, NPR, Canal Plus, The Economist and The Financial Times, won the Peter Mackler Award for journalistic courage and ethics.
Montenegro, which hopes to join the European Union by 2025, is under pressure to fight organised crime and protect media freedom. The country ranks 104th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index