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Monday 9 May 2022

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Blaz Jovanic is led away by police on May 9 in Podgorica.

PODGORICA -- Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic has welcomed the arrest of Commercial Court of Montenegro President Blaz Jovanic, saying it was "good for the state."

Authorities searched the institution's headquarters on May 9 in the presence of Jovanic, who was subsequently arrested along with other civil servants.

Neither the Police Directorate nor the Special Prosecutor's Office responded to RFE/RL's request for information about why Jovanic was suspected of criminal offenses.

According to the news portal Vijesti.me, he was arrested on suspicion of coordinating a criminal organization that robbed the state of millions of dollars.

Jovanic has also been accused by critics of President Milo Dukanovic of having used his position to cover up corrupt activities of the president and his inner circle.

The Police Directorate unofficially confirmed that the search and arrest were carried out on the order of Chief Special Prosecutor Vladimir Novovic, and eight people were arrested, mostly bankruptcy trustees.

"I think that the so-called bankruptcy mafia in Montenegro has taken off and done great damage to the state interests of Montenegro. Now is the time to slowly settle accounts and make everyone responsible for what they did," Abazovic told reporters in Podgorica on May 9.

The arrests are the latest in a series of measures aimed at curtailing corruption and abuse of public office at the highest levels of the Montenegrin justice system.

Abazovic, whose minority government was approved by parliament on April 28, also said that the arrests were the result of changes at the top of the Special Prosecutor's Office that occurred in March, when Novovic was elected, replacing Milivoje Katnic, who reluctantly resigned in February.

Newly elected Interior Minister Filip Adzic welcomed the action in a statement.

It and other recent actions are "the best indicator of commitment and uncompromising fight against organized crime and corruption, which has been set as one of the key priorities of this government. This is just the beginning," the statement said.

The arrests also were welcomed by the opposition pro-Serbian Democratic Front (DF).

DF leader Andrija Mandic said they were "concrete actions for the separation of the mafia and state bodies."

Jovanic has been the head of the Commercial Court for eight years. He was first elected in April 2014 and reelected in 2019 when he ran unopposed.

The role of the Commercial Court is to adjudicate disputes between economic and other legal entities, disputes between companies, and bankruptcy cases.

With reporting by dpa
Aytan Mammadova

BAKU -- An Azerbaijani journalist, who has worked as a freelancer for RFE/RL, says she was attacked by an unknown man armed with a knife who threatened and intimidated her over her coverage of a high-profile murder trial.

Aytan Mammadova said on May 9 that she had filed a complaint with the Baku city police over the attack, which took place late the previous night in the elevator in her apartment building.

Mammadova has been covering the ongoing trial of a man suspected of murdering a 10-year-old girl in 2019. She was one of the few journalists who traveled from the capital, Baku, to Ganja, a city in western Azerbaijan, for almost every court session.

In Azerbaijan, the story has caught the public's attention, in part because the suspect on trial has insisted that police tortured him to force him to confess to the murder.

"When the elevator doors shut, he grabbed my jaw with one hand and put a knife to my neck with the other hand," Mammadova said of the incident. "The knife went deep into the skin. He removed the knife, but then put it back on my neck again, leaving a cut mark."

According to Mammadova, the attacker said to her: "You have not gotten wiser," started cursing her daughter, and warned her "not to write about the case."

When the elevator reached Mammadova's floor, she fled to her apartment while the man stayed inside and went back down to the ground floor. Mammadova's husband tried to catch up with the attacker but could not find him.

International Outcry

Independent journalists and rights activists in Azerbaijan signed an open appeal to President Ilham Aliyev and law enforcement to find and punish those responsible for the attack on Mammadova.

Aliyev, 60, has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic with an iron hand since shortly before his father, Heydar Aliyev, died in 2003 after a decade in power.

The president has repeatedly rejected criticism from rights groups and Western governments that accuse him of jailing his opponents on trumped-up accusations and abusing power to stifle dissent.

The authors of the appeal said the attack on Mammadova was "an attack on freedom of speech and press."

An Interior Ministry spokesperson later announced that a criminal probe into the incident had been opened.

The attack triggered international condemnation, including from the U.S. Embassy in Baku. "We are closely monitoring the case and call on the authorities to investigate and bring those responsible to justice," it said in a post on Twitter.

That message was echoed by Teresa Ribeiro, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, in a Twitter post.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly also condemned the attack. "I strongly condemn this unacceptable intimidation of our freelancer, which is clearly intended to deter her from pursuing an important story," Fly said in a statement. "We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate this attack and to protect journalists from harassment."

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said it was “shocked by the violence” in a Twitter statement on the attack and urged authorities to investigate.

Azerbaijan ranked 154th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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About This Blog

"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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