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news 05 Jan 17

Montenegro Releases Crime Reporter Martinovic

Investigative reporter Jovo Martinovic has been released from detention ahead of his appearance in court on January 19 to answer drugs-smuggling charges, following a campaign by human rights organizations. 

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Jovo Martinovic. Photo: Courtecy of Martinovic's family.

After almost year and a half in detention on drug smuggling charges, Montenegro has freed crime reporter Jovo Martinovic, his family confirmed to BIRN on Thursday.

Martinovic was released on Wednesday to face his ongoing trial before a court in Podgorica on drug-related charges that he has several times denied.

He was indicted for aiding and belonging to a drugs-trafficking gang in April 2016 and is due to appear in court on January 19.

He has been in custody since October 2015, when he was arrested alongside 17 others from Montenegro in a joint operation conducted with Croatian police.

International human rights and media organizations have long demanded his release, following claims that the prosecution pressured another suspect in the case to accuse him falsely.

In a letter to former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in September, the European and International Federations of Journalists, EFJ/IFJ, urged Montenegro's authorities to consider his journalistic work as a justifiable explanation for his alleged contacts with drug traffickers.

"Martinovic has insisted he is not guilty, saying his contacts with the other suspects were purely linked to his work as a journalist. His interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking were part of his journalistic work," they said.

"We are shocked by the gravity of his possible sentence to more than 10 years in prison," the same letter added.

Presenting his defence to the court in December, Martinovic pleaded not guilty, saying his contacts with the other suspects in the case were purely linked to his work as a journalist.

Martinovic said his interactions with three of the other suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking network formed part of a journalistic investigation into the crime.

He said that for many years he had been investigating organized crime, corruption and terrorism in the Balkans, and one of his tasks was also exposing cannabis plantation and production in Albania.

"Even some of the accused in this case knew my personal opinion about it [the narcotics trade] and why it was not possible for me to participate in smuggling drugs," Martinovic told the court.

BIRN reported that Martinovic had interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking network as part of a journalistic probe. These two were Dusko Martinovic - no relation - and Namik Selmanovic.

Dusko Martinovic, the main suspect in the case, is a convicted member of the "Pink Panther"  gang of thieves. Jovo Martinovic worked with him on a series of TV shows about the robbers.

He worked alongside Selmanovic when the French production company CAPA Presse hired them to contribute to research on its documentary about weapons smuggling.

Over the last 15 years, Martinovic worked on several high-profile journalistic research projects which have been published in the some of the world’s most influential media, exposing war crimes and organized crime across the Balkans.

His research formed the bedrock for an investigation which has received intense media coverage - allegations of organ-trafficking and other abuses by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, the insurgent force that took on the Serbian police and military in the 1990s.  

He also worked on a radio documentary called "Massacre at Cuska", which looked at the killings and deportations carried out during the war in Kosovo, which helped prompt NATO to start carrying out air strikes against the then state of Yugoslavia.

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