Anti-corruption reporting under threat as investigations into media attacks stall

Expression

In December 2018, the arrest of an opposition MP sparked a nationwide debate. Nebojsa Medojevic, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Front (DF), was arrested after refusing to testify about accusations of high-level corruption. The MP had publicly accused the former mayor of Podgorica, Miomir Mugosa of bribing Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic. The alleged scandal reportedly involved a bribe of €100,000 ($113,670 USD) in an abuse of office and corruption case. Both Katnic and Mugosa deny all charges. After being fined in March 2018, Medojevic was arrested on 30th November 2018 for refusing to testify to support his claims. A political crisis quickly emerged as Medojevic was convicted to spend two months in prison, but released after spending just thirteen days behind bars after a Constitutional Court Ruling which stated his arrest was unconstitutional

The arrest split public opinion. While some consider the arrest lawful, arguing that refusing to testify in a court case should be sanctioned regardless of Medojevic’ parliamentary immunity. Others viewed the arrest as an attack on freedom of expression. In particular, free speech activists highlighted that the arrest of a politician for simply making a statement, indicates the ruling party's unflinching use of the judiciary to harass political opposition. Similarly, as the case involved government corruption, suspicions have mounted over whether the arrest was actually a move to silence an opposition exposé. In a statement, free speech activist Darko Ivanovic commented that the arrest was: 

"...sending a message that these things are possible, that immunity means nothing, that the institutions violate the constitution with incredible ease."

Onlookers have also claimed the crackdown on opposition is a setback for Montenegro's European Union (EU) membership aspirations. 

In a separate incident, on 19th December 2018 The EU-Montenegro Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee expressed concerns relating to media freedom in Montenegro and the political interference in the national public broadcaster. In particular, the Committee pointed to the lack of progress in pursuing cases of violence against journalists. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, 2018 saw a spate of attacks against journalists. In one example, the case of Olivera Lakic, an investigative journalist that was attacked in 2018 have seen little progress. Lakic was shot in the leg outside her home on 9th May 2018 and the perpetrators are yet to be brought to justice. In a statement issued in September 2018, the President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic said the lack of progress is “not desirable” but reflects the capability of state prosecutors. In response, international civil society also condemned the inaction. In a statement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) commented on the situation

"The lack of action by the police fuels the unacceptable insinuations, undermines the reputation of Lakic and her work, and constitutes an additional threat to the life of this courageous journalist, who provides public interest reporting." 

Peaceful Assembly

The centenary of the unification of Montenegro and Serbia in 1918 has reopened old wounds. While Montenegro split from Serbia after an independence referendum in 2006, around 30% of the population identify as Serbs. In October 2018, Montenegrin authorities banned a number of ceremonies across the country celebrating the 100th anniversary of the unification. In one example, on 26th October 2018, local authorities in the Montenegrin town of Pljevlja banned a ceremony planned to take place claiming it “contradicted the state tradition of Montenegro”. The controversial celebration angered authorities in Montenegro, who commented that the unification of the states in 1918, saw the "disappearance of Montenegro" as a state. Despite this, the celebration went ahead in a local church. In response to the bans, the neighbouring Serbian authorities highlighted that the move attempted to whitewash the two nation's shared history. Unbowed by the words of Serbian authorities, a month later the Parliament in Montenegro adopted a resolution that declared the 1918 Podgorica Assembly, which joined the two nations, as void.

An unrelated development has seen an improvement in peaceful assembly rights for Montenegro's LGBTI community. The sixth Montenegrin LGBTI pride parade, held on 17th November 2018 in Podgorica, took place without incident. During the protest, the event organisers called on the Government to adopt the Law on life partnerships of same-sex persons as soon as possible. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the draft bill grants equal rights to same-sex couples in Montenegro. 

Government representatives also expressed their support for the parade. In fact, local police authorities in Podgorica highlighted that this year's parade was secured by only 200 police officers, a number far smaller than last year. Onlookers claimed that this highlights improvement in the treatment of the LGBTI community in Montenegro. Chanting the slogan “Ne ljubimo lance” (We don’t like chains), protesters called on MPs to support the law adoption, and to support courts to prosecute cases of violence against the LGBTI community. Only three days earlier, on 14th November 2018, a CSO called Association Spektra, which fights for the rights of the LGBTI community, marked the memory of victims of transphobia by organising a performance of "Maske" (Masks). During the performance, eleven trans people carried masks and banners in a ‘rebellion’ against a system that fails to adequately recognise their existence.

December 2018 saw several protests on environmental issues take place. In particular, these addressed concerns about the construction of hydro-power plants on the Montenegrin rivers in the search for possible sources of oil and gas in Montenegro, and the construction of a highway near the UNESCO-protected Tara river. Ecologists, activist and concerned citizens have raised the alarm that the damage done to the environment by the construction may be irreparable.