Draft law seriously threatens access to information
📢🗣 Gotovo sve predložene izmjene Zakona o slobodnom pristupu informacijama sužavaju postojeća prava građana! ❌@IA_Alternativa @HRA_MNE @CeMI_ME CEGAS https://t.co/SPsAbJx7kW pic.twitter.com/s4QgTEQkHn— NVO MANS (@NVOMANS) November 6, 2019
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, access to information has been highlighted as a consistent issue which hampers investigative journalism in Montenegro. In late October 2019, civil society actors raised concerns over proposed changes to the Law on Free Access to Information which could undermine freedom of expression. MANS, an anti-corruption NGO in Montenegro, and Access Info Europe completed a legal analysis of the proposals which found several problems with the wording of the draft proposal. These include:
- Adding broad blanket exclusions on the right of freedom of information;
- Allowing authorities the ability to reject what they define as “unreasonable” requests;
- Narrowing the right to cover only information that is of “public importance”;
- Including exceptions that are not permitted under international law;
- Adding exceptions where the harm test will not be applied.
On 6th November 2019, five NGOs called on the Ministry for Public Administration to revise the proposals to align with constitutional commitments, international conventions and the standards set by the European Court of Human Rights. In a statement, the organisations said:
"The draft introduces systematic restrictions on access to information, new grounds for hiding information, abolishes existing citizens' rights and obligations of authorities, and does not resolve problems in practice that lead to multiple violations of rights and the absence of any responsibility. Almost all proposed amendments to the Act narrow the existing rights of citizens."
The CSOs called on Montenegrin authorities to immediately retract the changes and uphold numerous commitments to freedom of expression.
Zajedno sa @HRA_MNE @NVOMANS @CeMI_ME i #CEGAS podnijeli smo primjedbe Ministarstvu javne uprave na Nacrt Zakona o slobodnom pristupu informacijama.— Institut alternativa (@IA_Alternativa) November 6, 2019
Očekujemo da Vlada povuče predložene izmjene Zakona i uskladi ih sa Ustavom i međunarodnim standardima.https://t.co/O8Nxtjf65l pic.twitter.com/kkUrgNksx6
In a separate incident, Montenegro has witnessed a sharp increase in online attacks against the LGBTI community. The CSO, LGBT Forum Progress noted that in the timeframe of 30 days in 2019, there were over 60 cases of hate speech and discrimination on the internet targeted at members of the LGBTI community. These mainly consisted of negative comments and threats of physical violence against LGBTI people and their allies. In a statement, the group said:
“It is with great regret that we have to state that the phenomenon of hate speech and discrimination on social networks and the Internet is not going away in Montenegro, and that the LGBTIQ community is regularly targeted by threats, humiliation and hatred in general by individuals in the virtual space."
The group highlighted that recent parliamentary discussions regarding same-sex marriage have created an environment of heightened aggression aimed at the community. As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, discussions around same-sex marriage in Montenegro have been ongoing since April 2018. Yet, in another recent study, The Centre for Civil Education, found that after 2 months of observation in 2019 that the media reporting of LGBTI issues is dominantly positive and neutral. Onlookers have described this conclusion as indicative of a progressive stance in the media, which is yet to be accepted by conservative elements of Montenegrin society.
On 19th October 2019, several dozen people in the northern Montenegrin town of Bijelo Polje held a protest rally against plans to build a power plant on the Bistrica River. The environmental activists stated that the area is home to many rare species, and the project could permanently damage the delicate ecosystem. After the protest it was promised by the Government promised that the project would be cancelled. There were no reports of the protest being disrupted or unlawfully dispersed.