WhatsApp and Viber blocked on polling day in Montenegro
During recent elections, authorities negatively impacted freedom of expression by blocking social media. In the run up to the vote, Montenegrin officials blocked popular messaging services WhatsApp and Viber claiming that 'unlawful marketing' was being conducted throught those platforms, and that they jeapordised the integrity of the elections. Many international groups criticised the ban and drew attention to the unnecessary curtailment of freedom of expression by Montenegrin authorities.
#Viber, #WhatsApp temporarily shut down during #Montenegro elections https://t.co/4rQM3ewFhW @SEENPM_org @RSF_EECA @EFF @derechosdigital pic.twitter.com/4faVmN9eCB— IFEX (@IFEX) October 19, 2016
Public vilification of journalists by politicians continues to blight media freedom in Montenegro. During a recent speech, Mayor of Kolasin, Zeljko Vuksanovic referred to journalists as media 'sputum'. Sinisa Lukovic, a journalist, was threatened at his home after he reported on a fracas at a polling station on election day. The Trade Union of Media in Montenegro highlighted the case in a statement and expressed its disappointment that the ongoing prosecution lacked rigour. The trade union also noted:
"The media union provides full support to Lukovic to protect his personal security and continue his professional work, in the public interest. The media union is, at the same time, joining the protest of NGOs because of the decision of the competent [authority] that, on election day, shut down popular services, Viber and WhatsApp, for propaganda communication, or unwanted (spam) political messages to the users."
In another worrying attack on a media outlet, an unidentified man threw rocks at TV Pink’s main office building in Podgorica. Windows were broken in the politically motivated attack causing minor material damage, and leaving one journalist injured. Media groups in Montenegro have pointed to the worrying trend of politically motivated attacks on media outlets and fear that they aren't being investigated properly. In a separate event, a minor was assaulted in Podgorica because their parents regularly join LGBT assemblies and support gay rights. Although police have arrested the perpetrator, LGBTI groups have echoed calls from media rights groups to enhance protections for outspoken activists and their families.
Regarding access to information, the director of the Agency for Corruption Prevention, announced that in future it will not allow journalists who report incorrectly and arbitrarily to cover the Agency's work. The move by the government body epitomises an institutional intolerance towards critical journalists by impeding their access to information. Many have viewed the announcement as another way of censoring the media and constricting the space for investigative journalism. International human rights groups have previously been openly critical of Montenegrin authorities' approach to harassing and detaining journalists working on politically sensitive issues such as corruption. For instance, a press release by Human Rights Watch on 19th September, drew attention to the detention of Jovo Martinović, a prominent investigative journalist who has been held by authorities on spurious charges for 11 months. At the time of writing, no credible evidence to justify his detention has been provided.
In September and October, protests on various issues were held in Montenegro. No protest was reported to have turned violent and security forces are reported to have facilitated all demonstrations without disruption. Some examples of protests are listed below:
- Montenegrins protested twice on the occasion of increased traffic accidents with tragic consequences demanding state authorities to take preventative measures.
- Former employees of the bankrupted Adriatic Shipyard Bijela protested to demand payment of their salaries.
- Former employees of an aluminum plant continued their protests by blocking streets and demanding delayed severance payments.
- Budva residents protested against building of a ropeway above bathing zone.
- Tivat residents protested against the privatisation of the city beach.
- NGO “For Water of Podgorica” protested against illegal dams on the Moraca river.
Civic Space Developments