Montenegro's 2018 civic space roundup

Association

January - March 2018 

2018 started with the release of a new strategy for improving the operating environment for CSOs. The strategy will run from 2018 - 2020. Despite positive claims from the government, CSOs remain sceptical. CSOs from the coalition “Saradnjom do cilja” (Cooperation to the Goal) criticised the drafting process. They claimed civil society groups were unable to contribute to the strategy and it fails to reflect the needs of Montenegrin CSOs.

The incident highlighted the lack of cooperation between civil society and the government. While CSOs saw an early version of the strategy, they were not invited to take part again. Similarly, the CSOs' requests at the initial consultation were rejected by the government.

April - May 2018 

On 13th April 2018, CSOs raised concerns over a hostile environment for civil society. The President of the Democratic Socialist Party's (DSO) comments have sparked concern. DSO President, Milo Đukanović's has made several statements against CSOs. Montenegrin civic groups claim that this has created an atmosphere of fear and hate. Đukanović's has controversially claimed that NGOs and the media work with foreign donors to topple power.

CSO cooperation with the government on policy issues remained a key issue. Institute Alternative warned of government’s failure to consult civil society. The Institute claimed there has been no change, only words. The group reiterated calls for civil society to participate in policy discussions.  

In late April, Montenegro’s Ministry of Human and Minority Rights drafted a bill on same-sex marriage. The plans have attracted controversy. Both LGBTI organisations and ultra-conservative parties criticised the plans. LBGTI groups claimed that while the laws acknowledge same-sex marriage, they fail to protect LGBTI rights. This is because married same-sex couples will still have fewer rights than heterosexual couples. Conservative groups also rejected the plans, claiming they weaken family values. 

May - July 2018

The debate over the same-sex marriage bill continued. Public consultations on the issue took place between 14th May 2018 - 25th June 2018. Representatives of the LGBTI community, claim that the law is a step in the right direction. Religious groups have demanded the withdrawal of the law. CSOs stated that the draft has the basic rights granted to same-sex couples in Montenegro. As such, it is a significant stride in the right direction.

On 18th May 2018, CSOs mounted a fight against corruption. Fourteen CSOs created a Coalition for Transparency and Fight against Corruption. Working at the local level, the coalition will advocate for increased transparency. Another ambition of the group is to raise public awareness about corruption.

July - August 2018

Civil society participation continued to be a hot topic. A government formed electoral legislation reform working group will begin activities in September 2018. The announcement was well received, but a CSO, the Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) urged for effective inclusion of civil society. CeMI noted that CSOs who oversee electoral procedures will add significant value. 

Peaceful Assembly

April - May 2018

Violence by criminals sparked protests in Montenegro. Civil society called for mass protests under the slogan ‘a life without fear’. The protests drew attention to the spate of killings, car bombs and other acts of violence. CSOs attribute the violence to criminal drug smuggling gangs operating in Montenegro. The killing of Dražen Čađenović in March shocked the nation. Killed in a car bombing in Podgorica, Čađenović's murder shone a light on escalating violence. Čađenović was part of a criminal gang and his death is being investigated as a targeted assassination. Two days later, another killing took place in the centre of Podgorica. Unknown assailants shot Milos Sakovic and an innocent bystander dead. The shooting is reportedly related to criminal activity. The protest urged the government to combat organised crime in Montenegro. 

On 9th May 2018, hundreds protested after an attack on a journalist. Unidentified assailants shot Olivera Lakic in her leg, outside her home in Podgorica. As a prominent journalist, Lakic is best known for her work exposing corruption. She works for the independent Vijesti outlet. Protesters called on Montenegrin authorities to intervene and protect investigative journalists. 

May - July 2018

On 14th June 2018, mothers protested in outside the Montenegrin Assembly in Podgorica. They mobilised against unpaid maternity allowances for mothers with three or more children. The cuts on benefits were imposed under financial austerity measures and have not been paid for over a year. Given the lack of action, the mothers threatened to pursue the case at the European Court of Human Rights. While the protest was not disrupted, onlookers did note a new fence outside the Assembly which was not there before.

In June, the issue of media freedom saw more protests. Journalists and representatives of CSOs and media associations protested in Podgorica to demand media independence. They organised, “ Nezavisni javni servis i tačka” (Independent public broadcaster – full stop). The activists highlighted the level of political influence over RTCG, the public broadcaster and demanded the resignations of the RTCG Council. The protest came after what they viewed as politically motivated dismissals from RTCG.

Not long after, on 7th July 2018, protesters gathered again in Podgorica. This time, they decried the dismissal of RTCG's general director and other editors. The protesters noted the government's growing control of the state-funded broadcaster. 

Expression

January - March 2018

Political interference in Montenegro's public broadcaster stirred controversy after the ruling party's decision to replace two members of RTCG's board. The two new members are broadly viewed as supporters of the ruling party. Civil society groups viewed the move as an attempt to co-opt the broadcaster. The decision comes at a time when the broadcaster was gaining independence and had recently announced an investigative journalism section. For CSOs, the convergence of these events is no coincidence and viewed the political interference as a strategy to restrict independent journalism.

April - May 2018

On 2nd April 2018, a car bomb exploded outside a journalist's house. The journalist, Sead Sadiković is well known for his work exposing corruption. Fears over Sadiković's safety had been growing and The Montenegrin Journalists Association had expressed concerns over his safety. They urged the authorities to investigate threats against him. Many organisations called for a swift investigation into the incident. A few days after the attack on journalist Sead Sadiković, the investigative reporter Olivera Lakic was shot in her leg outside her home by unidentified assailants. The assumed motive behind this attack was the same as for Sadiković, namely their investigative work into crime and corruption. Ms Lakic has been a victim of multiple attacks and due to the high threats against her, she had been provided with police protection for some time.

Several CSOs expressed concern over the political interference in RTCG. In particular, the highlighted the election of the new president of the broadcaster. According to the CSOs, the move illustrates the continued erosion of RTCG's independence. The move is particularly dangerous in consideration of elections planned for April. They argued that a free press is essential for democratic process. In this context, civil society groups have tried to protect the broadcaster. The NGO Media Centar of Podgorica, sent a request to amend the law on the public broadcaster. They requested that the Agency for Electronic Media should oversee the broadcaster's appointments. Controversially, appointments are currently handled by the Montenegrin Parliament.

Ahead of elections in April, CSOs raised concerns over freedom of expression by highlighting the need for reform. They noted smears and interference in journalists' work as obstacles to free speech. Yet, Montenegro has some way to go to adhere to the EU's standards on freedom of expression. A report by the Council of Europe, cited a need to review sectoral laws. 

May - July 2018

Two months after Olivera Lakic's shooting, police are yet to find the perpetrator. Lackic is one of the most targeted journalists in Montenegro. In 2012, unknown assailants beat her outside her house. Ever since she has endured repeated harassment as a result of her work uncovering corruption. A statement by the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro noted: 

“The future of media scene in Montenegro depends on solving this case. If it remains unsolved, journalists should seriously consider alternative ways of protecting their lives and professional integrity, The state of Montenegro must not be a synonym for a place where free word is threatened by bullets.”

A Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Conference in Macedonia adopted a declaration deploring the attack. They said:

“Politicians and public officials should not create a hostile environment for the media through their statements and actions. They must demonstrate a higher level of tolerance for critical journalism and support a plurality of voices and opinions in a society.”

CSO and international organisations urged the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Freedom of information also came under the spotlight. CSOs condemned the refusal of Montenegrin authorities to allow 90 requests for information. It was especially worrying as the requests related to the presidential elections. CSOs noted a long delay in processing the requests. On 14th June 2018, CSOs called on Montenegrin authorities to amend the current law. The declaration came after detailed analysis of the current freedom of information framework. In their analysis, the CSOs found Montenegro fell short of international human rights standards.

July - August 2018

Embattled public broadcaster, RTCG continued to make headlines. Although the broadcaster produced impartial content, concerns over independence persisted. The decision to dismiss director Andrijana Kadija stoked these concerns. Although authorities claimed Kadija had acted unprofessionally, others claim the decision was politically motivated. CSOs note the slow creep of government influence over the broadcaster.