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Montenegrin journalist Jovo Martinovic (file photo)

A Montenegrin court is set to give a verdict on October 8 in the retrial of Jovo Martinovic, an investigative reporter who has been sentenced to prison on charges of drug trafficking and criminal association.

“The responsibility resting on the judges is great,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and seven other nongovernmental organizations said ahead of the ruling by a Podgorica court.

A renewed conviction of Martinovic would “undermine media freedom in the country and as such would be incompatible with Montenegro’s EU accession, for which an independent and pluralist media is a key condition,” they said in an October 5 statement.

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Martinovic, who has reported widely on organized crime with both local and foreign outlets, has denied the accusations against him and said he believes they were in retaliation for his reporting.

The reporter was arrested five years ago and spent 15 months in pretrial detention before the High Court of Montenegro sentenced him to an 18-month prison term for marijuana trafficking and criminal association in January 2019.

The verdict was quashed by the Appeals Court of Montenegro in October 2019, which concluded that the first-instance court had failed to name the evidence that would justify a conviction of the journalist.

The same court that convicted the reporter last year will issue its verdict on October 8.

The eight NGOs calling for Martinovic’s acquittal urged the judges to “stand for media freedom and human rights in Montenegro.”

“We are convinced that [Martinovic], who was in contact with criminal networks only for the purpose of his journalistic coverage, is innocent,” they said.

Montenegro, which hopes to join the EU by 2025, is under pressure to tackle organized crime and safeguard media freedom.

“In the last decade, hardly any other journalist in an EU member state, candidate country, or potential candidate country -- with the exception of Turkey -- has spent so much time in prison merely for doing his job,” according to the eight NGOs.

Besides RSF, they include the European Center for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, ARTICLE 19, the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa, and the International Federation of Journalists.

Igor Lyakhovets in a Moscow court in January

The Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court decision to extend the pretrial arrest of the former chief of the Moscow police's illegal drugs department, Igor Lyakhovets, one of several former police officers suspected in the illegal apprehension of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year.

The court ruling on October 7 upholds the Basmanny district court's September ruling to prolong Lyakhovets' pretrial detention until December 7.

Lyakhovets said at the hearing that his case was politically motivated and "there are no grounds to keep me in custody."

Lyakhovets and his four former subordinates -- Akbar Sergaliyev, Roman Feofanov, Maksim Umetbayev, and Denis Konovalov -- were arrested in late January.

They were charged with abuse of service duties, falsification of evidence, and the illegal handling of drugs.

Konovalov, who is charged with forging documents related to the probe, was transferred to house arrest from a detention center in February after he made a deal with investigators and testified in court that his former boss, Lyakhovets, had ordered him to plant drugs on the reporter.

Investigators said on September 2 that the suspects had been additionally charged with "committing a crime in an organized group," which may lead to even stricter sentences.

The 37-year-old Golunov, who works for the Latvia-based information outlet Meduza, was arrested in June 2019 in Moscow for allegedly attempting to sell illegal drugs.

He was released several days later after the charges were dropped following a public outcry. The case sparked an investigation into his detainment and also into why Golunov suffered bruises, cuts, a concussion, and a broken rib during the ordeal.

Russian Journalist Released After Police Drop Charges
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In mid-July, police officers who detained Golunov were fired, along with their supervisor, for violating the journalist's rights.

After Golunov’s release, Russian President Vladimir Putin fired Major General Yury Devyatkin, the head of the Moscow police department's drug control directorate, and Major General Andrei Puchkov, the police chief in Moscow's West administrative region, over the case.

Authorities announced in November that the case had been classified, a decision harshly criticized by Golunov's lawyers, who called the move an attempt to cover up the "wrongful arrest" of their client.

In a rare move, the Prosecutor-General's Office of Moscow's Western District apologized to Golunov in February for his illegal prosecution.

With reporting by TASS and Kommersant

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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