Protests over Serbian Orthodox Church enthronement, violence against journalists
On 31st July 2021, a protest was held in Podgorica against the new COVID-19 measures and mandatory vaccination. Around 150 people gathered to send a request for the measures to be abolished, claiming that no one has the right to either impose something on them or forbid it.
Protests against the enthronement of the new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church turned violent in Cetinje, where the ceremony took place, as thousands of supporters of patriotic groups clashed with the police, claiming that the act is an open challenge to Montenegro’s independence and sovereignty by Serbia. Twenty police members were injured and dozens of protesters were arrested, as government officials accused the opposition led by former PM Milo Djukanovic of an attempt for a coup d’etat. Members of Djukanovic’s party stated that the protest was against a religious community that was separate from the state, and therefore the protest was a constitutional right to peaceful assembly. The Council for Civil Control of the Work of the Police stated that during the police intervention in Cetinje there was an excessive use of chemical agents and demanded that rubber bullets cease to be used.
Two Montenegrin activists have been charged with disturbance of public order and peace after they staged a protest during an event which marked 30 years since the declaration of Montenegro as an ‘ecological state’. According to environmental organisations, this declaration, which was supposed to protect Montenegro’s national resources, has been systematically betrayed. One of the activists who put a banner and sounded a siren at the anniversary said the protest did not harm anyone, and the real violation is the constitutional right to a healthy environment.
Montenegro’s Council of the Agency for Personal Data Protection expressed concern that new COVID-19 measures could put citizens’ personal data at risk. A member of the Council said that unauthorised persons could get insight into citizens’ personal data, calling on the Health Ministry to be more precise about its new health measures. This comes after the Health Ministry announced on 30th July 2021 that patrons of nightclubs, discotheque and indoor restaurants must show their IDs and National COVID-19 certificates before entering.
In a separate development, while the new Media law was supposed to reveal media payments for advertising and other contractual obligations, this has not occurred in the first year since the adoption of the law, as pointed out by critics from the civic sector.
Politician and former civic activist Dritan Abazovic from the movement URA was verbally attacked and insulted by protesters in front of the Parliament during the Cetinje unrest. The insults targeted his Muslim heritage and were condemned by political parties, the NGO sector and the Islamic community. The police started a hate speech investigation into the persons.
Attacks against journalists
A letter was sent to journalist Jelena Jovanovic by a suspect in two murders to which Jovanovic was a witness, discrediting her. The Trade Union of Media of Montenegro demanded that the authorities establish if the letter endangered the journalist’s position and requested that proceedings be initiated against the lawyer of the suspected murderer for forwarding the letter to the journalist.
The director of the Center for Investigative Journalism Milka Tadic Mijovic was threatened in person by an individual with a criminal background on 16th August 2021. The individual, who was arrested, called the journalist a scammer, referring to her criticism towards the government. According to a statement by the NGO MANS:
“the attack on Mijović is the result of the previous practice of not punishing attacks on journalists, which created an atmosphere of persecution and lynching of members of the media community and continuously sent the message that there is no political will to provide adequate protection to journalists in Montenegro”. (translated from Bosnian).
The societal tensions in Montenegro have put journalists at risk, as three incidents involving reporters occurred during the peak of the Cetinje violence. On 22nd August 2021, Reporter Ljubica Milicevic and cameraman Drago Matovic of Vijesti TV were forced to distance themselves from their live reporting spot due to abuse from protesters. On the same day journalist Tamara Nikcevic from RTCG was verbally attacked in the town of Risna. N1 reporters were also attacked in Cetinje on two occasions, with protesters spitting on them, throwing rocks at them and asking them to give up their phones while doing their job.
On 15th September 2021, a technical report was published by IPSOS on trust in the media, revealing that Montenegrin citizens are divided over the role of media. A key finding was that three quarters of citizens believe the media spread political propaganda and disinformation.
Civic Space Developments