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.