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news 01 Dec 16

Montenegro Journalist Rejects Drugs Smuggling Charge

Montenegrin crime reporter Jovo Martinovic has pleaded not guilty to drugs smuggling charges, calling the indictment against him contradictory and unclear.

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

Presenting his defence before the court in Podgorica on Thursday, investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic pleaded not guilty to drugs smuggling, 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 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking network formed part of a journalistic investigation into crime.

After spending 14 months in custody, Judge Vesna Pean rejected the request of Martinovic’s legal representatives to free him from detention.

Martinovic 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 the smuggling of drugs," Martinovic told the court.

Martinovic was charged with aiding and belonging to a drugs-trafficking gang in April.

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

Martinovic told the court that he was especially confused by part of the indictment accusing him of planting an "application for secure communication that cannot be traced" on one of the defendants.

"It is an insult to all journalists; our job is not to install such devices. I demand that the prosecution say what type of application I installed, because it is not said in the indictment, and is that against the law," Martinovic insisted.

BIRN reported that Martinovic had interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking scheme as part of a journalistic probe.

The 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 a documentary about weapons smuggling.

Testifying on Monday, Dusko Martinovic said the reporter was "not guilty" and had nothing to do with the charges.

"I met the journalist Jovo Martinovic while serving a prison sentence in Spuz prison in 2012. He visited me in prison several times together with a film director from the US about filming a documentary and feature film about my life story and the prison sentences I'd served in France," Dusko Martinovic told the court.

In September, several media organizations called for the release of Jovo Martinovic, following claims that the prosecution put pressure on another suspect to make false accusations against him.

The European and International Federations of Journalists, EFJ/IFJ, together with the Media Union of Montenegro, both called for him to be set free and meantime urged the Montenegrin courts to ensure him a fair trial.

They say the case of the reporter, who has been behind bars for almost a year, gives rise to deep concerns.

"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.

However, the government has said it has no role to play in calls to release the reporter, and cannot interfere with the independent decisions of the judiciary.

The government said the indictment against Martinovic was raised and confirmed “on the basis of evidence” that was obtained lawfully.

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