10/09/2013 HRA reaction to statements by the Public Policy Institute Managing Board Chairman

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10/09/2013 HRA reaction to statements by the Public Policy Institute Managing Board Chairman

The Podgorica daily Pobjeda on 10 September 2013 published a letter by professor Stevan Lilić, Ph.D., the Chairman of the Managing Board Public Policy Institute, a non-government organization that launched its operations in Podgorica in March 2013. The letter regards the incident between the Director of that NGO, Mr. Vladimir Beba Popović, and a Podgorica daily Vijesti journalist and photographer. It is addressed to Mr. Peter Stano and its author says that it has also been forwarded to other representatives of the European Commission in Brussels and other international institutions.

In his letter, Mr. Lilić among other things claims that “this media outlet [referring to the daily Vijesti, HRA’s comment] has in cooperation with several NGOs (Human Rights Action and Civil Education Center) been raising hue and cry against the Public Policy Institute with a view to unsuccessfully obstructing and eliminating all competition when it comes to raising funds for their activities”.

Previously, in his reaction, also published in Pobjeda on 7 September 2013, Mr. Lilić claimed that the “Vijesti – NGO sector business group” dominated Montenegro and “are being granted huge donations and funds for literally every project, as long as it fulfills the ‘democratic opposition to the government’ component.” He concluded that this dominance has been “seriously undermined by the appearance of the Public Policy Institute” and that such a situation, as he clarified in his letter published today, has led to a “hue and cry” which Human Rights Action, among others, has been raising against the Public Policy Institute.

Human Rights Action hereby rejects as absolutely untrue all the above statements Mr. Lilić made regarding the HRA. What is at issue is an unprecedented reaction to a publicly voiced professional commentary.

HRA has not been taking part in any „hue and cry“ against the Public Policy Institute. On the contrary, we have commented it only once, after the incident between its Director and Vijesti’s reporters on 3 September 2013, when its Director reacted to being photographed by Vijesti’s reporters as he was leaving a building in the company of the Prime Minister’s bodyguard (as the photograph Vijesti published on 4 September 2013 on pages 10 and 12 and the video footage published on http://www.vijesti.me/vijesti/policajac-gledao-dok-popovic-psuje-vrijeda-otima-clanak-148691 testify).

After a number of Montenegrin media reported the incident, and in view of the statements by Public Policy Institute Director Vladimir Beba Popović — that he would file reports against Vijesti’s reporters for interfering in his privacy, i.e. taking photographs of him without authorisation, that he had insisted that the reporters delete the photographs, that he had deleted one himself, that he was not at a public place at the time of the incident and that he could not be treated as a public figure since he did not hold a public office (published in Pobjeda on 4 September 2013) — HRA provided the following answer in response to a question from the press: “Photographing Popović at a public place was not unauthorised – pursuant to European Court of Human Rights standards, he is a public figure and has to expect to be under a greater degree of media scrutiny. The public also had the justified interest to know that he was accompanied by the Prime Minister’s bodyguard. The right to inform the public outweighed his right to privacy for that particular reason” (published by Vijesti, pp. 10-11, on 5 September 2013, the Podgorica daily Dan and TV Vijesti). We also said that, in our opinion, this case, too, corroborated that HRA was right to start advocating inclusion of two new offences in the Criminal Code in 2010, with the aim of protecting journalists during the fulfilment of their professional duties (the proposed offences are Prevention of Journalists from Fulfilling Their Professional Duties and Assaults on Journalists Fulfilling Their Professional Duties). In our statement to the daily Vijesti, we also reiterated our call for elaborating the right to privacy provisions regarding freedom of expression in the Media Law in order to help the courts, journalists and the public in general adjust their conduct to European standards in that field.

Our view is a professional one, based on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, notably its judgment in the case of Von Hannover v. Germany No. 2 of 2012, in which it found that media are entitled to photograph well-known i.e. public figures if that is in general interest and if a reasonable balance with the right to respect for their private life has been struck (i.e. if the public figure being photographed is at a public place and if the photograph contributes to a debate of public interest in a democratic society). That Court has ruled on numerous cases in which it found that public figures are not only those holding state and public offices, as the Public Policy Institute Director publicly asserted, but all those who play a role in public life, whether in politics, the economy, the arts, the social sphere, sport or in any other domain as well – pursuant to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly 1998 Resolution on the Right to Privacy.

We believe that our view deserves to be debated at the level of professional arguments but certainly not through inappropriate disqualifications. In their statements to Pobjeda, the Institute’s representatives have over the past few days qualified us as “nobodies”, “alleged human rights champions tripping other up”, “allegedly independent but actually dependent on foreign grants”.

We feel we also need to respond to the other disqualifications voiced by Lilić and other Institute representatives.

  1. HRA is not “in a financial and interest-based collusion” either with Vijesti or any other media outlet in Montenegro. We cooperate with all the media and we criticize them when they warrant criticism. For instance, we criticized Vijesti as well in our report on media self-regulation, in which we analyzed the enforcement of the press code of conduct.[1]

  2. Neither are the assessments that the donations with which we are funding some of our projects “huge” and that we are “are being granted huge donations and funds for literally every project, as long as it fulfills the ‘democratic opposition to the government’ component” true. On the contrary, given the scope of our activities and our results, these donations are modest and insufficient. We have conducted numerous activities since we were established without any projects or remuneration. Furthermore, our largest hitherto EU funded project, which we have implemented together with five other NGOs, was based on cooperation with three Montenegrin ministries.[2] Another project, which recently passed the first stage of approval, is supported by the Ministry of Justice. The HRA Executive Director coordinated the working group aligning Montenegrin law with European standards that was set up by the Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister. In its analysis of the need to amend the Montenegrin Constitution, the Government mentioned HRA’s contribution and the Assistant Justice Minister recently praised us for our contribution to improving the effectiveness of the legal remedies protecting the right to a trial within a reasonable time. Our project involving the training of media professionals and the design of a press guide will directly facilitate the fulfilment of at least two goals regarding the freedom of expression in the Montenegrin Government Action Plan. We managed the homeless shelter in cooperation with the Government for four months this year. The legislators have endorsed numerous amendments to draft laws proposed by the HRA, wherefore we also directly helped improve the legislative framework in Montenegro and the practices of the Montenegrin state authorities.[3]

  3. We have never lobbied with donors against any other NGO in Montenegro or abroad. Contrary to Professor Lilić’s claims, HRA has absolutely no wish to be “a soloist on the Montenegrin donor stage“. Nor can our hitherto actions lead to such a conclusion. On the contrary, HRA has been helping other NGOs raise funding. We are a member of the Coalition Monitoring the Talks with the European Union on Chapter 23, which comprises 14 Montenegrin NGOs and we have also launched a number of multi-NGO initiatives.  

All of this is well-known both to the interested public, the Government of Montenegro and the donors, including the European Commission. This is why we are all the more surprised by the audicity with which the Chairman of the Public Policy Institute Managing Board has publicly voiced these absolutely groundless accusations.


Tea Gorjanc-Prelević, Executive Director of the NGO Human Rights Action


[1] Please find the report at: https://www.hraction.org/wp-content/uploads/Report-Monitoring-of-Journalistic-Self-Regulatory-Bodies-in-Montenegro1.pdf

[2] Please find more information on the project ”Monitoring Respect for Human Rights in Closed Institutions in Montenegro”, at: /?page_id=1069

[3] For more information on HRA activities please see: www.hraction.org