Respect judicial independence in cases of two leading journalists in Serbia and Montenegro, RSF says
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges respect for judicial independence in Serbia and Montenegro, where decisions by prosecutors general could prevent justice being rendered in emblematic cases involving two investigative journalists whose reporting has annoyed government officials. The judicial authorities must stand up to political pressure, RSF says.
In Serbia, the prosecutor who obtained the conviction of the instigator and perpetrators of a Molotov cocktail attack on Serbian investigative journalist Milan Jovanović’s home has been removed from the case, and this could prevent their conviction from being upheld on appeal.
Serbia’s prosecutor general Zagorka Dolovac took prosecutor Predrag Milovanović off the case despite his success at the original trial. Growing concern that Jovanović, who investigates local corruption, will be denied justice is being reinforced by political pressure on the prosecutor’s office from Dragoljub Simonović, the former mayor of the Belgrade suburb of Grocka and alleged instigator of the 2018 attack.
Simonović, who is running for Belgrade mayor and is a very influential member of President Aleksandar Vučić’s party, threatened Milovanović during a hearing, saying he “could no longer be prosecutor.”
RSF wrote to the Serbian prosecutor general on 17 May voicing these concerns and asking her to reconsider this decision, but has so far received no reply. The prosecutor’s removal from the case was raised during a meeting of a working group on journalists’ safety that the government created. But this is little consolation as this working group has no more than consultative status and its credibility has been undermined by the recent resignations of the journalists represented on it.
In Montenegro, a decision by prosecutor general Ivica Stanković has directly helped to perpetuate the baseless criminal proceedings against Jovo Martinović, a freelance journalist who has done a great deal of investigative reporting on criminal elements within the state.
After Martinović was sentenced to a year in prison last March – in decision that RSF and 11 other press freedom NGOs denounced as judicial persecution – he asked Stanković to challenge the sentence’s legality, but Stanković declined. Martinović is now preparing to appeal against Stanković’s decision, continuing the legal battles in which he has been embroiled for years and which led to his imprisonment for 15 months in 2015-16 although he had not been convicted.
“Decisions by prosecutors general have undermined the fight against judicial harassment of journalists in Montenegro and the fight against impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Serbia,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.
“We urge the prosecutors general and senior judicial authorities responsible for the cases of Jovo Martinović and Milan Jovanović in these two countries to demonstrate greater resistance to all political pressure. At these moments of deep uncertainty, we stand alongside these two journalists, whose investigative reporting is a source of inspiration in the Balkans and beyond.”
Serbia and Montenegro are ranked 93rd and 104th respectively in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.