New York, October 8, 2020–Montenegro’s High Court in the capital, Podgorica, today found investigative journalist Jovo Martinović guilty in a retrial and sentenced him to one year in prison for drug trafficking, according to news reports; the court acquitted him of charges of criminal organization. Martinović, an investigative freelance journalist who covers organized crime, already spent 14 months in pretrial detention from 2015 to 2017, and therefore will not go back to prison, according to the same reports.
Martinović told CPJ via messaging app that he plans to appeal the ruling, and told Safejournalists.net, a regional site tracking violence against journalists, that the ruling was a “political decision of the court”.
“We condemn today’s ruling by the Montenegrin High Court as a missed opportunity to bring justice to journalist Jovo Martinović, who has been persecuted for his investigative reporting,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “The ruling sends a wrong message to journalists in Montenegro and will have a chilling effect on the country’s media.”
Martinović was first detained on October 22, 2015, along with 17 others, on suspicion of participating in a drug trafficking ring. Authorities charged him with allegedly facilitating a meeting between drug dealers and buyers, CPJ has documented. In January 2017, the journalist was released pending the outcome of his trial and banned from traveling, CPJ documented at the time. Martinović has denied the charges, saying he believed they were in retaliation for his reporting, and appealed the January 2019 verdict, which sentenced him to 18 months in prison, CPJ has documented. On October 26, 2019, the Appeals Court of Podgorica overturned that verdict, and announced the retrial, according to reports.