Berlin, September 21, 2020 — Montenegro authorities should drop all criminal charges against journalist Jovo Martinović, and ensure that the press can work freely without fear of retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 15, the High Court of Podgorica concluded the retrial of Martinović, an investigative freelance journalist who covers organized crime, and announced that the verdict would be announced on October 8, according to regional press freedom tracker Safejournalists.net.
On January 15, 2019, a Montenegro court convicted Martinović of drug trafficking and criminal association, and sentenced him to 18 months in prison, as CPJ documented at the time. On October 26, 2019, the Appeals Court of Podgorica overturned that verdict, and announced plans for a retrial, according to reports.
“Throughout Jovo Martinović’s case, Montenegrin authorities have conflated reporting on criminal activity with participating in it,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Martinović was reporting on issues of public interest; convicting him on these charges for simply doing his job would create a dangerous precedent and have chilling effect on Montenegrin media.”
Martinović was first arrested on October 22, 2015, along with 17 others, on suspicion of participating in a drug trafficking ring; CPJ and other human rights groups called for his release, citing prosecutors’ lack of evidence and allegations of political interference in his case.
The journalist denied wrongdoing and said his only interaction with his co-accused, who face drug charges, was in the context of reporting, as CPJ documented at the time.
“I am cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the retrial process especially after the appeals court gave clear guidelines as to how the retrial case should be conducted,” Martinović told CPJ on the phone after the retrial concluded. “Based on those guidelines, I should be acquitted.”