The well-known Montenegrin investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic was sentenced to one and a half years in prison in Podgorica last Tuesday on charges of drug trafficking and criminal conspiracy, a verdict that has been roundly condemned as a miscarriage of justice by press freedom advocates, and is seen as signaling a deterioration of freedom of expression in the new NATO member and EU candidate country.
Martinovic, known for his reports in the local and international media, was working on an investigation into arms trafficking in the Balkans for a French television company when he was arrested along with 17 others in October 2015.
He spent more than a year in custody before being released in January 2017. International human rights and media organisations demanded his release, amid claims that the prosecution pressured another suspect in the case to falsely accuse him.
He has always rejected the accusations, claiming that his contacts with criminal circles were only as a result of his work as a journalist.
Speaking to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Martinovic said: “I have been convicted for being a journalist.”
“If I really had any business with marijuana I would have been acquitted, like all those who are really in the narcotics [business],” he added.
The verdict has been criticised internationally. In a statement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the “iniquitous verdict and sentence and regret that, during the three years of proceedings against this journalist, the judges took no account of evidence and testimony demonstrating his innocence.”
“The extreme harshness of the sentence imposed on Jovo Martinovic is yet another sign of the decline in respect for media freedom and the rule of law in a country that says it wants to join the European Union,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.
The 44-year-old journalist, who has worked for many international media outlets such as the BBC, NPR, French channel Canal Plus, The Economist and The Financial Times was awarded the 2018 Peter Mackler Award for journalistic courage and ethics in August.
Martinovic has said that he is going to appeal the verdict.