Freelance journalist Martinović was detained on October 22, 2015, on suspicion of drug trafficking. An investigation into him and 17 other suspects lasted nearly six months and resulted in an April 8, 2016, indictment by Montenegro’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against him and 13 others, according to his family and journalists who have worked with him.
For months, the only evidence available to Martinović and his lawyer were allegations that the journalist had facilitated a meeting between drug dealers and buyers, and that he helped install a popular communications application-Viber-on the smart phone of the alleged leader of the drug scheme, Duško Martinović (no relation to the journalist). Jovo Martinović and his lawyer have denied any wrongdoing on the journalist’s part. His interaction with the co-accused was in the context of his work as a reporter, his family and journalists with whom he worked, told CPJ.
The alleged leader of the drug scheme said during the first trial hearing in October 2016 that Jovo Martinović had contacted him only for journalistic purposes, according to regional press reports.
On December 1, 2016, Martinović pleaded not guilty to drug smuggling. He told the presiding judge any contact with suspects in the case was linked to his work as a journalist, Balkan Insight reported. The judge rejected an appeal for Martinović to be released while the trial continues.
On September 19, 2016, CPJ, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders jointly wrote to Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović to call for Jovo Martinović’s release. The following day, authorities gave access to Martinović’s case file, including alleged evidence of his purported crime, to his lawyer, a family member told CPJ. Authorities rejected two requests by Martinović’s lawyer for his release pending trial.
In response to the letter, Montenegro’s prime minister’s office rejected the groups’ call for Martinović’s release and denied his indictment was related to his journalism.
Martinović, an investigative journalist for over 15 years, has contributed reporting and research to international news outlets including The Economist, Newsday, Global Post, The Financial Times, and VICE, according to CPJ research. Martinović’s work has often brought him into contact with criminals, according to international journalists with whom he worked. Matthew McAllester, editor of Newsweek Europe, recalled how Martinović had helped report on war criminals in the Balkans. “One of Jovo [Martinović]’s great talents is finding people involved in criminal activity and persuading them to speak to foreign journalists,” McAllester told CPJ in April 2016.
Martinović helped VICE on the production of a 2014 documentary series about the Pink Panther jewel thieves, and worked with French production company CAPA Presse, which at the time of his arrest had hired him to do research and find sources for the documentary, “La route de la kalashnikov” (The Route of the Kalashnikov). The documentary, which aired on the French television channel, Canal+, on January 4, 2016, exposed illegal smuggling of weapons from the Balkans into Western Europe.
In August 2016, the Montenegrin independent daily Vijesti published a series of articles alleging that Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Mira Samardžić applied pressure on the alleged drug gang leader Duško Martinović to implicate Jovo Martinović in crimes he had not committed. The government did not comment on the allegations when it responded to CPJ’s joint letter, which referenced Vijesti’s articles.
Martinović did not appear on CPJ’s 2015 census because details of his case had not been made public.