Montenegrin and international press freedom organizations are calling on the country's authorities to acquit an investigative reporter who has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of drug trafficking and criminal association.
The calls were issued on September 9 as a court in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, is set to begin hearing Jovo Martinovic’s appeal against his January conviction on September 12.
Martinovic's acquittal would be "a great boon for the media freedoms and the rule of law that Montenegro aspires to conform to the EU standards," said Nora Wehofsits, advocacy officer at the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).
"It's time to stop prosecuting and intimidating investigative journalists working for freedom of information," Wehofsits said.
In a joint statement, the ECPMF and nine other media freedom watchdogs said that "the lack of justice and protection for free and independent media in Montenegro is cause for great concern and must be addressed with utmost urgency and determination."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a separate statement calling on Montenegro's authorities not to contest Martinovic's appeal, saying he "was simply doing his job when he reported on issues of public interest."
"Jailing a journalist for his reporting creates a dangerous precedent and will have a chilling effect in Montenegrin media," Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator in New York, said in a statement.
Martinovic, who has reported widely on crime with both local and foreign outlets, denied the accusations against him and said he believed they were in retaliation for his reporting.
Montenegro, which hopes to join the EU by 2025, is under pressure to tackle organized crime and safeguard media freedom.
The country is ranked 104th out of 180 countries in the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index.