A first victory for investigative reporter in Montenegro
After a seven-year judicial ordeal in Montenegro that included 15 months in pre-trial detention, Jovo Martinovic, an investigative reporter specialising in organised crime, has finally been acquitted on appeal. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails this decisive victory for press freedom, which must now be confirmed by Montenegro’s supreme court.
Charged with drug trafficking due to his contacts with a member of a criminal gang, while working on a documentary for the French production company CAPA, the reporter Jovo Martinovic was acquitted by an appeal court. The verdict, which the investigative journalist received on 27 January, is very clear:
In addition to the lack of evidence, "all the witnesses confirmed the defence of the accused [Jovo Martinovic] that the sole purpose for the incriminating meeting was the work on the aforementioned documentary film, and the work on the film was the reason why the witness collaborator, as he himself stated, was in frequent communication with the accused".
The acquittal, which is expected to be challenged by the special prosecutor with little chance for success, will become definitive once upheld by the country’s supreme court.
"I hope that this case’s positive outcome will have a broader impact on press freedom in Montenegro and that journalists will not be automatically treated as suspects if they investigate organised crime or high level corruption,” Jovo Martinovic told RSF after the acquittal was announced on 17 January.
“We hail the provisional end to a legal nightmare and call on the supreme court to uphold this first victory for investigative journalism in Montenegro. We are proud to have supported this brilliant and principled journalist, and we will continue to advocate for his definitive acquittal and to work for greater respect for press freedom in his country.
Martinovic’s seven-year legal ordeal began in 2015 when he and two of his sources were part of a group of 17 people who were arrested in an international operation against organised crime. Accused of criminal activities, he ended up spending 15 months in pre-trial detention.
A recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2018, he has always insisted that he contacted criminal gangs solely in order to gather information for the purpose of reporting in the public interest.
“This case has taken up a lot of my time and has strained my resources and ability to work freely,” Martinovic told RSF. “It can be compared to a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation), only with direr consequences.”
After receiving an 18-month prison sentence in 2018 that was quashed on appeal for lack of evidence, Martinovic was sentenced to a year in prison at the end of a retrial in 2020. RSF has been convinced of his innocence from the outset and has always called for his acquittal. RSF also drew international attention to the lack of judicial independence in Montenegro and to the incompatibility of its harassment of a journalist with its ambition to join the EU.
Montenegro is ranked 63rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.