Dusko Jovanovic

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On May 27, 2004, unidentified attackers shot and killed Dusko Jovanovic, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan (Day), in a drive-by shooting while he was leaving his office in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.

The assailants shot Jovanovic in the head and chest with an automatic rifle as he was entering his car just after midnight. Dan is closely tied to the Socialist People’s Party, which supported former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic throughout the 1990s. Jovanovic was head of the tax police in Milosevic’s government during the 1990s.

In the years before the attack, Dan faced numerous lawsuits for criticizing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, Jovanovic’s former political ally from the 1990s. Both Dan and Jovanovic’s family reported that the editor had received numerous death threats, and the newspaper’s office in Podgorica was set on fire in April 2003.

Judge Radomir Ivanovic of the Podgorica High Court and police officers initiated a murder investigation, according to local press reports. Police said the murder was a top priority and called in German forensic experts to assist in examining recovered evidence, including the weapon and vehicle used in the killing, according to local press reports.

On June 9, police arrested Damir Mandic, a karate expert and organized crime figure, as a suspect. Ten days later, Ivanovic began questioning potential witnesses in the case.

In early September, the editor’s wife, Slavica Jovanovic, testified before the court that the head of Montenegro’s State Security Service (SDB), Dusko Markovic, had called her husband and threatened to kill him in April 2003, according to Dan.

A lawyer representing the Jovanovic family asked the court to call senior government officials–including Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, President Filip Vujanovic, and Markovic–for questioning, but the court rejected the request, the Belgrade-based news agency Beta reported.

On October 2, prosecutors charged Mandic with murder, citing gunpowder residue, a DNA analysis, and other evidence linking him to the Volkswagen Golf 3 vehicle used in the crime, the independent Podgorica-based weekly Monitor reported. The indictment refers to but does not identify other individuals who were with Mandic at the time of the shooting, according to local press reports.

While the indictment does not clarify the reason for the murder, the only serious motive discussed in the local press was Jovanovic’s work for Dan exposing government abuses.

Mandic pleaded not guilty in November 2004, saying he was framed, The Associated Press reported. In April 2009, Mandic was sentenced to 30 years in prison for being an accomplice in Jovanovic’s murder.

A lawyer representing the Jovanovic family and Dan staff criticized the police investigation for failing to identify Mandic’s accomplices, who ordered the killing, and the possible links between Mandic and Montenegrin government authorities. Journalists and human rights activists complained about the slow progress of the police inquiry, and expressed concern that only one suspect had been identified and charged for the crime.

In July 2014, a court overturned the verdict in Mandic’s case, and in 2015 held a new trial, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a local investigative outlet. In October 2015, Mandic was again convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison, according to that report.

In February 2021, the regional news website Balkan Insight reported that Jovanovic’s family had pressed the county’s newly elected coalition government—no longer headed by the Democratic Party of Socialists, which Jovanovic had frequently criticized—to reopen the police investigation into his killing.

CPJ emailed the Serbian Ministry of Interior for comment on Jovanovic’s case in early 2021, but did not receive any response.