According to information that Human Rights Action (HRA) received from the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Administration, related to mass assemblies held contrary to the order of the Minister of Health in front of the Church of Christ’s Resurrection from the election day August 30, and thereafter the so-called patriotic assemblies in Cetinje and in the Independence square in Podgorica, including the farewell and funeral of the Metropolitan, the Police Administration did not file any criminal charges and the State Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against only one person, dismissed criminal charges against three persons, while six cases are still under investigation.
All mentioned assemblies were held at a time when outdoor assemblies were limited to a maximum of 100 people. According to assessments of the Police Administration, up to 50,000 people participated in these assemblies.
During the first wave of Covid-19, from mid-March to mid-April, when only 308 cases of Covid-19 were active in Montenegro, and only a few deaths were registered (9 in total at the end of the first wave), the authorities prosecuted and punished as many as 123 persons for violating assembly restriction orders. People were fined between 600 and 800 euros for gathering in public with only one other person (44) or two (79). Acting Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stanković issued warnings in April and May that “all those who violated the regulations will be held criminally responsible ” because “the law is the same for everyone.’’
However, there were no more such warnings in the second wave, and mass assemblies from late August to November 1 contributed to Montenegro now having over 11,000 actively infected persons, 126 dead since early November (430 in the second wave) and it is the second country in the world and in Europe in terms of the number of infected persons compared to the number of inhabitants.
HRA believes that by failing to exercise their powers and prevent and sanction assemblies held contrary to health regulations, Police Director Veselin Veljović, Minister of the Interior Mevludin Nuhodžić, and acting Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stanković, supported the mass violation of the law and thus misused their official positions, which resulted in a huge increase of the number of infected and dead. HRA thinks they should be held responsible. Otherwise, a dangerous precedent will be created that various socio-political events can abolish the rule of law, at the cost of tragic consequences.
HRA received a response from the Police Administration stating that from September 1 to November 17, 2020, only eight criminal charges were filed for violating measures prohibiting the assembly of the population in closed and open public places, and only in Ulcinj and Budva. This means that the police didn’t consider any basis for prosecution regarding the mass assemblies of citizens of Podgorica and Cetinje in this period.
According to the information received from the Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica, on the occasion of the gathering at the farewell and funeral of the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije, three cases were formed in which an investigation is ongoing. One person was prosecuted for gathering in Podgorica, criminal charges against two people in Podgorica and one in Cetinje were dismissed, while six cases in Podgorica are still being investigated.
HRA also received a response from the Deputy Head of the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica, Miroslav Turkovic, explaining the position of the Prosecutor’s Office that there were no elements of a criminal offense in the behavior of priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Dragan Mitrovic, who, as reported by portal Caffe del Montenegro (CdM), got up from hospital bed and, infected with COVID, attended the farewell from the Clinical Center of Montenegro and funeral of Metropolitan Amfilohije.
Mr. Turkovic explained that Mitrovic did not attend the funeral and that he was not given a measure of self-isolation that would restrict his movement. “From all the information and evidence gathered, it was determined that the priest did not leave the Clinical Center, but only moved within the Covid center at the Clinical Center, within which coronavirus patients are usually treated“, as well as that they were informed by the health and sanitary inspector of the Administration for Inspection Affairs that “the priest was not issued a decision on self-isolation, nor was any other measure applied that would prevent or restrict his movement in order to prevent the spread of the disease”, so the public prosecutor decided there was no ground for suspicion that he had committed the criminal offense of failing to comply with health regulations to combat a dangerous health disease or other for which he is being prosecuted ex officio.
It was also announced that a case had been formed in which it is still being investigated whether other persons, who entered the zone of the Covid Center of Clinical Center of Montenegro on October 30, acted illegally and whether any official committed a criminal offense in that regard which is prosecuted ex officio.