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news 27 Oct 16

Crime Reporter's Trial Opens in Montenegro

Crime reporter Jovo Martinovic has gone on trial in Montenegro, accused of participating in a drug trafficking ring.

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

The trial in Montenegro of Jovo Martinovic, an investigative journalist who has exposed crime networks, war criminals and robberies, opened on Thursday in a Podgorica court.

Martinovic has been charged with aiding and belonging to a drugs-trafficking gang. He has pleaded not guilty .

In custody since last October, when he was arrested alongside 17 others from Montenegro in a joint operation with Croatian police, Martinovic maintains his contacts with the other suspects were purely linked to his work.

BIRN reported in April that Martinovic had interactions with two of the other 17 suspects in the alleged drug-trafficking scheme as part of his journalistic work. They were Dusko Martinovic - no relation - and Namik Selmanovic.

Dusko Martinovic, the main suspect, is a convicted member of the "Pink Panther"  thieves gang. 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 Thursday, Dusko Martinovic said that 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 the documentary and the feature film about my life story and the prison sentences I served in France," Dusko Martinovic told the court.

Martinovic, who on Thursday admitted his guilt, but not to all the crimes presented to the indictment, said that after leaving prison he would start filming under the agreement that he had made with Jovo Martinovic and the US production company.

In September, several media organizations called for the release of Jovo Martinovic, following claims that the prosecution had put pressure on another suspect in the drug-related case to accuse him falsely.

The European and International Federations of Journalists, EFJ/IFJ, together with the Media Union of Montenegro, 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, has given 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.

But the government has rejected calls to release the reporter, saying that it 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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