Later this week, the Montenegro courts will deliver the verdict on the case of investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic. He was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and associating with criminal gangs following his investigation into those very things.
He spent 15 months in pre-trial detention and was then sentenced to 18 months in prison by the High Court of Montenegro in January 2019. In October of the same year, the Appeal Court quashed the verdict and concluded that the court had failed to explain facts and provide evidence that would justify a conviction.
This alarming case of judicial persecution has led to concerns of political pressure in terms of the upcoming verdict.
Martinovic is a specialist in investigating and reporting on organised crime. He has worked for leading international media including The Economist, Financial Times, NPR and BBC. He also collaborated with Exit.al and The Shift News on the investigation into Steward Healthcare and its plans to open throughout the Balkans. You can read more about the PPP by Stealth series here.
He was also awarded the prestigious Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism but was unable to attend as he had a travel ban in place at the time.
Ahead of the trial, a group of international media organisations have called on the Montenegro judiciary to acknowledge that their verdict is essentially a choice between EU integration or not. They write that Martinovic was only in contact with criminal networks for his work and is innocent of all charges.
“On 8 October, the same High Court of Montenegro that once convicted the reporter will now have a chance to acquit. The responsibility resting on the judges is great: a renewed conviction of Martinović 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. In the last decade, hardly any other journalist in an EU Member State, candidate country or potential candidate country – except for Turkey – has spent so much time in prison merely for doing his job.
We call on the judges to stand for media freedom and human rights in Montenegro and to acquit Jovo Martinović.”
The letter was signed by the ECPMF, Reporters Without Borders, EFJ, IPI, ARTICLE 19, Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa, and the IFJ.