Detention of journalists for spreading disinformation
Thousands of citizens, Montenegrin sovereignists and supporters of patriotic organisations protested on 28th December 2020 when proposed changes by new Montenegrin government to the contested Freedom of Religion Law were being discussed (see previous updates on the law). The Serbian Orthodox Church condemned the law, arguing that it was designed to strip the church of its property. The protestors expressed their anger towards the new government’s proposed changes as 41 deputies of the ruling coalition backed the amendments to the law. While the protest was unannounced, it took place peacefully.
In January 2021, President Milo Dukanovi refused to approve the amendments to the controversial law and sent it back to Parliament.
In a separate development, five thousand Montenegrins demanded the resignation of the health minister. The demonstrators condemned the government’s inability to secure a COVID-19 vaccine, especially in the context of the rising number of positive cases. Due to the pandemic, the measures in force allow registered public gatherings of up to 25 people, lasting no longer than 60 minutes, with mandatory distance between participants.
Amid protest walks by the Serbian Orthodox Church followers and following the adoption of the contentious Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief, authorities arrested, detained, and fined several journalists, political activists and private citizens for posting critical comments against government officials on social media. Cases include:
- On 5th January 2021, police detained Anđela Đikanović from the online portal FOS Media and charged her with “causing panic and disorder” after she published a news report (later retracted) which was deemed “fake” by government.
- On 12th January 2021, the editors in chief of the Montenegro-based pro-Serbian and pro-Russian online portals IN4S and Borba, Gojko Raicevic and Drazen Zivkovic, were detained and charged with causing panic and disorder due to a report about an explosion in a villa used by government officials, which was disputed as false by authorities. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrests.
“Montenegrin authorities must immediately drop all criminal charges against journalists Dražen Živković and Gojko Raičević. Journalists should not face criminal charges for their work; authorities should seek civil remedies, and reform Montenegro’s criminal incitement laws,”- CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in New York.
- On 23rd January 2021, Milija Goranovic was fined 500 euros ($600) for posting an allegedly insulting comment on Facebook about the national police chief.
#Montenegro Cracking down on fake news does not and will never justify to arrest a journalist. @RSF_inter asks local authorities to immediately release @fosmedia_me 's editor in chief Andjela Djikanovic and to make sure journalists keep working in a suitable environment— RSF in English (@RSF_en) January 6, 2020
Montenegrin authorities should immediately drop charges against Dražen Živković and Gojko Raičević and cease pursuing criminal cases against journalists.https://t.co/3LvRpItlac— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) January 13, 2020
Later, in the wake of the parliamentary elections, Montenegrin political scientist Ljubomir Filipovic reported threats against him and his family to the police, after he spoke critically about the new government.
On the anniversary marking 150 years of journalism in Montenegro, journalists stressed the worrying social and material status of media workers, the attacks on investigative journalism, and all the unsolved cases of murders and attacks on journalists - from the murder of Dusko Jovanovic 17 years ago, to the wounding of journalist Olivera Lakic in May 2018. In regard to the latter, special state prosecutor Sasa Cadjenovic announced during a press conference on 24th December 2020 that two suspects were arrested for planning the murder of the journalist on 24th December 2020, while the others are in prison. It was announced at the conference that the accused were offered 150,000 euros for her murder because “she knows something”. The perpetrators of the attempted murder, however, have still not been found.
#Montenegro: The attempted murder of @Vijestime reporter @OliveraMN was prevented by security forces. She was targeted and wounded twice for her work on corruption in the past. #CFWIJ is horrified by this brutal attack on Olivera. We demand authorities to protect the journalist. pic.twitter.com/c39kcOy33u— #WomenInJournalism (@CFWIJ) January 21, 2021
In a related development, the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights released a report which found that half of the Montenegrin population do not trust the media. It reported that television is the most dominant media, followed by social media. A major concern of the Montenegrin people was fake news and the belief that the media is not independent in relation to various actors.