On the occasion of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, Human Rights Action warns that the Government, State Prosecutor’s Office and the Police have not yet secured a safe environment in which journalists can safely practice their profession in Montenegro, because there had still been no progress in key investigations of murder, attacks and threats to journalists. HRA expresses deepest concern regarding recent final decisions of courts in civil proceedings for defamation, which are not compliant with the European Court of Human Rights case law on freedom of expression in the media.

Safe environment for journalists has not been provided although more than three years ago, in March 2012, heads of the Government, Police, Ministry of Interior and State Prosecutor’s Office decided that investigation and prosecution of all cases of attacks on journalists and media would become a priority for the police and prosecutors. The Commission for Monitoring Actions of Competent State Authorities Regarding Investigations of Cases of Attacks on Journalists, formed on 6 February 2014, has not adopted report on its work to date, and according to statements of the Commission’s president, its work was obstructed by state authorities’ failure to submit relevant documentation.

HRA reminds that the public is not familiar with any concrete progress in revealing the masterminds and perpetrators of the murder of the Editor in Chief of the daily Dan, Duško Jovanović, of both attacks on journalist Tufik Softić, the attack on journalist Mladen Stojović, the attack on the writer Jevrem Brković and killing his companion Srđan Vojičić, nor burnings of cars that were property of the daily Vijesti or on the opening of new investigation of the attack on the director of Vijesti, Željko Ivanović.

Although Ivan Bušković has been convicted and served his sentence for assaulting daily Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić in 2012, the motive behind the attack, as well as who ordered it was never revealed. Interestingly, the former director of the Police Directorate testified at court that police chiefs informed him that Bušković was not the real attacker. It has not been clarified who and why threatened journalist Lakić on two occasions before the attack. The first case of threats ended by final verdict against Slavko Mušić, an employee of the company “Montenegro Tobacco Company” the journalist Lakić claimed in a series of articles to had produced cigarettes intended for smuggling in Mojkovac factory Tara. The other case of threats to the journalist has not been completed, because it has not been established who had threatened her and her daughter. First, Milan Grgurević has been sentenced as he falsely reported that he was the one who threatened Lakić, apparently with the intention of turning the investigation into the wrong direction. And in March 2015, a police officer, former chief of security of the Police director, Milenko Rabrenović, was acquitted of charges of threatening Lakić by final judgment in a controversial proceeding. Previously, proceedings against the chief of police in Budva have been initiated because he allegedly tried to influence the Basic State Prosecutor to drop the proceedings against Rabrenović.

HRA reminds that, according to European standards, the authorities are obliged to take all reasonable steps for securing the evidence. Any deficiency in the investigation, which impedes from determining direct perpetrators and those who ordered or organized the crime carries the risk that the state will violate this standard. Prompt response of the authorities in the investigation is essential to public confidence in the ability of the authorities to maintain the rule of law and prevent any appearance of collusion with the perpetrators of the attack or tolerance of criminal offences.

HRA also reminds that the Government has not supported proposal of HRA and the Media Trade Union to introduce new criminal offences for increased criminal law protection of journalists and other professionals who are at particular risk of attacks when performing work in the public interest, such as state officers, for whom such protection already exists.

HRA expresses its utmost concern regarding recent final decisions of courts in proceedings relevant for the interpretation of freedom of expression in the media in relation to the protection of honour and reputation.

The weekly Monitor has once again been finally convicted to pay damages to the movie director Emir Kusturica for violation of his honour and reputation, based on basically the same reasons that urged the Constitutional Court in 2012 to overturn the decision of the Supreme Court confirming the judgment of the High Court in Podgorica against Monitor in 2008. Particularly worrying is the fact that the High Court, in decision at detriment of the weekly Monitor, has not at all referred to the judgment of the Constitutional Court in the same case from 2012, or the specific arguments the Constitutional Court raised in that judgment from the European Court of Human Rights’ case law. Interestingly, the same judge participated in the work of both High Court Podgorica judicial councils who found against Monitor in 2008 and 2014 (she appeared first as Vera Sekulić in 2008 and then as Verica Sekulić in 2014). In the meantime the very top of Montenegrin judiciary advocated for the abolition of the Constitutional Court’s competence to overturn the verdict, leading to the conclusion of unjustifiable subjectivity in deciding on this case. However, the most important question is whether constitutional appeal is actually an effective legal remedy in Montenegro, as there are no obstacles in the legal system preventing ordinary courts to disrespect positions of the Constitutional Court?

Meanwhile, it is quite obvious that the only political weekly in Montenegro, highly critical towards the Government, is being financially exhausted, and that its survival has been jeopardised by judgments that are not based on the European standards of freedom of expression.

The weekly Monitor was also finally convicted by the High Court in Bijelo Polje in January 2015 to pay damages for violation of honour and reputation to the sister of the Prime minister, Ana Kolarević (Djukanovic), due to a series of articles based on allegations made in the lawsuit of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against Hungarian Telekom managers. The High Court in Bijelo Polje concluded that the lawsuit of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cannot be considered an official document which should not be verified by the journalist prior to publication according to the European Court of Human Rights, although the US Embassy confirmed that the allegations made in that lawsuit (the allegations of bribery received by the “sister lawyer of top Government official”) represent an official state position. The High Court also resented the fact that weekly Monitor dealt with the allegations from the lawsuit while no procedure has ever been initiated against Kolarević in this regard. However, the European Court of Human Rights never imposed such a condition on journalists in order for them to perform their work in the public interest, let alone that the High Court was obviously not interested in the fact that the State Prosecutor’s Office of Montenegro had failed to receive evidence for three years upon which the USA formed such a position. The second instance court has not yet decided by first instance judgments in disputes initiated by Kolarević against dailies Dan and Vijesti.

In order to ensure application of the European Court of Human Rights case law standards, HRA believes that the Media Act needs to be supplemented with those standards as soon as possible, and that compulsory ongoing training of judges needs to be provided on the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights, because previous non-compulsory trainings did not provide for all judges to accept those standards. Also, the new rules for the assessment of performance of judges and public prosecutors should consider the European Court of Human Rights’, i.e. Constitutional Court of Montenegro’s finding that a judge or public prosecutor violated human rights.

Tea Gorjanc-Prelević,
HRA executive director