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news 12 Jul 17

Special Police Action Sparks Controversy in Montenegro

Rights watchdogs have called on Montenegro's government to dismantle the police special force unit, the SAJ, accusing it of once again grossly exceeding its powers.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
SAJ unit has been accused of exceeding its powers. Photo: Milos Vujovic.

Two Montenegrin watchdogs, the Civic Alliance and the Alternative Institute, on Wednesday urged the government and police to clarify the actions of an anti-terrorist unit called the SAJ, which was reportedly involved in a night club brawl over the weekend during a raid.

The program director of the Civic Alliance, Boris Raonic, said the last action of the SAJ unit in a club in the resort of Budva showed that this unit was not trained to work with citizens and should be disbanded.

“They ... continue to use excessive force and, as has been said several times before, with no responsibility for their actions; they obviously enjoy political protection," Raonic told the daily newspaper Dan.

Media reports said the sons of the Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic and Interior Minister MelvudinNuhodzic were both in the club during the raid, with their own security escorts. Police have not commented on the case so far.

Alternative Institute, another NGO, urged the police to explain why an elite unit specialising in complex police and anti-terror campaigns had been used to control clubs on the coast.

As no potential terrorist threat or hostile situation existed in the club, it is not clear why the special anti-terrorist unit was deployed there, it said.

“The police action, according to media reports, did not result in any arrest or seizure of items," Alternative noted.

NGOs complain that nothing seems to have been learned since the SAJ intervened in a crackdown on opposition protesters in October 2015, which led to investigations into the abuse of police power and possible use of torture.

In the crackdown on protesters, more than 30 police beat up the athlete and boxing legend Mijo Martinovic, leaving him with life-threatening injuries.

During a trial which started in spring 2016, police declined to disclose the names of the officers who beat up the protesters, insisting their identities were unknown because “they were helmeted”.

The SAJ unit's role during anti-government demonstrations and in more recent raids has raised fresh questions about political influence on the security forces - and about the apparent lack of political will to punish those who abuse their powers and authority.

The 65-member unit was formed in 1995 as a special task force to fight against terrorism.

It came under the spotlight five years ago when a former member of the unit, Brajusko Brajuskovic, claimed the special forces were used to beat up opponents of the regime, journalists and opposition leaders in the Nineties.

Several members of the SAJ were jailed for the torture and mistreatment of three Albanian nationalists in 2006.

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