(Brussels) – A Montenegrin investigative journalist has been held in pretrial detention on dubious drug-trafficking charges for 11 months.
A trial date for the journalist, Jovo Martinović, has not been set. The lengthy pre-trial detention and the prosecution’s failure to present credible evidence against him violate his rights to liberty and due process, and undermine Montenegro’s claim to respect press freedom, Human Rights Watch said.
“A respected journalist who investigates crime and corruption, Jovo Martinović, has spent 11 months behind bars without seeing any real evidence against him,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the charges are credible, then the prosecution should show him and his lawyer what they consider proof.”
The relevant authorities should release Martinović immediately and provide his lawyer with all evidence against him, Human Rights Watch wrote in a joint letter to Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, together with the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. If the prosecutor persists with the charges, the organizations said, the trial should meet international standards, including those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Montenegro is a party.
Martinović denies the charges, saying that any contact he had with alleged criminals was solely in the context of his work as a journalist. Over the past 15 years, Martinović has done extensive reporting about corruption, crimes, and war crimes in the Balkans, developing sources among criminal organizations. He has worked with a wide array of international media and contributed to The Economist, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Financial Times, and VICE media group, among others.
The authorities detained Martinović on October 22, 2015, on suspicion of participating in a drug trafficking ring, pending the completion of an investigation against him and 17 other suspects. On April 8, 2016, after Martinović had been detained for nearly half a year, the Special Prosecutors Office filed an indictment against him and 13 others.
Two requests by Martinović’s lawyer to have his client released on bail pending trial were rejected, most recently on September 9. The judicial authorities did not provide specific facts or circumstances to justify the rejection, as human rights law requires.
As of September 19, the prosecutor had provided Martinović only with allegedly incriminating statements from two of his co-accused, who are apparently cooperating with authorities in return for reduced sentences. The authorities have not produced any other evidence of his alleged criminal actions.
International journalists who have worked with Martinović attest to his integrity and professionalism. They highlight his skills at establishing sources in criminal organizations.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders had both previously condemned Martinović’s detention. On September 2, the International Federation of Journalists, its European group, the European Federation of Journalists, and its Montenegrin affiliate, the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro, called for Martinović’s release pending trial.
A July 2015 report by Human Rights Watch on the Western Balkans, “A Difficult Profession: Media Freedom Under Attack,” documented restrictions on media freedom in Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Martinović’s unnecessary pretrial detention without credible evidence underscores the concerns that he’s being held in response to his probing journalistic work,” Williamson said. “Every day Martinović spends in detention undermines Montenegro’s claims to respect due process and freedom of the press.”